Lampedusa at the limit after migrant explosion: “Apocalyptic conditions”

Only a minority of the migrants who arrived in Lampedusa want to stay in Italy. Most people hope for better life chances in northern Europe. The EU asylum rules are proving to be outdated in the crisis.

After the arrival of over 6,750 migrants in Lampedusa in recent days, the Italian Coast Guard and the Interior Ministry in Rome have announced that they will quickly move people from the overcrowded camps to Sicily or the mainland.

The Prefecture of Sicily announced that a ferry with a capacity of 700 people was on the way. 180 people are to be flown out on planes organized by the UN agency IOM.

“Apocalyptic conditions”

The Italian Red Cross, which runs the regular reception center, the so-called hotspot, on Lampedusa, stated on its website that the situation was very tense and that they were trying everything possible to guarantee at least basic care.

The priest of Lampedusa, Don Carmelo Rizzo, told the Ansa news agency that the water supply could also become a problem. “The conditions are apocalyptic,” said Rizzo.

The Red Cross aims to transfer arriving migrants to the mainland on the same day they arrive, if possible. Since the hotspot in the interior of Lampedusa only has a maximum capacity of 450 people, it is completely overloaded.

The result: The migrants camp on piers and quay walls in the port area. There were violent clashes there on Wednesday because those who had arrived protested against the poor supply. The day before, an infant fell into the harbor basin and drowned.

Number of crossings from Tunisia is increasing

Italian media report that more boats with migrants are waiting to disembark off Lampedusa. The Italian coast guard explained that the large rush was probably due to a kind of backlog in the Tunisian port of Sfax, as smugglers’ boats had not been able to leave for days due to the bad weather. Things have changed since the beginning of the week.

In Sicily and the Italian mainland, the migrants from Lampedusa are accommodated in reception centers, the “hotspots”, and should also be registered there. The Italian authorities are being supported by staff from the EU asylum agency EASO and the border protection agency Frontex.

Of the approximately 120,000 people who are said to have arrived in Italy this year, according to the Interior Ministry in Rome, only a minority have been fingerprinted and even fewer have applied for asylum in Italy.

Most want to travel further north, to France, Austria or Germany. The reception facilities are not closed camps. The migrants can leave on their own.

The non-governmental organization “Baobab Experience”, for example, assumes that many people only stay in Italy for a few days and then move on north by bus or train with or without a smuggler.

Neighboring countries are increasing border controls

France has therefore once again strengthened its border controls with Italy, which have been in place for years. Austria also controls its southern border with Italy. Germany, in turn, set up border controls between Bavaria and Austria.

But the effect of these controls is small, says migration researcher Gerald Knaus. Anyone who has arrived in the Schengen area, i.e. within the European Union without systematic border controls, has a good chance of getting to Germany at some point.

In terms of absolute numbers, Germany is the main destination country for asylum seekers in the EU, although it has no external EU borders (except at airports). According to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), 220,000 new asylum applications were submitted this year by August.

Rejected asylum seekers are rarely deported from Germany. For comparison: An estimated 64,000 asylum applications were submitted in Italy during the same period.

Italy ignores EU asylum rules

A few days ago, Germany and France completely stopped voluntarily taking in migrants from Italy. In 2022, 3,500 people were taken from Italy by other EU states. Around 1,000 of them came from Italy to Germany.

Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi reacted calmly to the takeover ban. This wasn’t much help anyway. He confirmed that Italy no longer adheres to the “Dublin Rule”. According to this EU asylum procedure rule, Italy would have to take back migrants who first arrived in Italy and then travel on to Germany as the country of initial entry.

“We are no longer accepting readmissions of migrants from other countries due to the extraordinary influx that Italy has been facing for months,” said the Interior Minister in Rome.

“There must be a mechanism of solidarity”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterrez therefore once again appealed for the solidarity of the EU countries: “The efforts cannot only be made by the countries of first entry, but must be shared with other countries,” he explained.

“This is an EU problem. There must be a mechanism for solidarity. The influx includes people who come for economic reasons. While respecting human rights, it must be possible to identify those who deserve refugee status,” Guterrez said on Wednesday.

After years of tough negotiations, EU interior ministers are about to conclude a new pact on migration that will provide for accelerated border procedures with rapid deportation of economic migrants. For the first time, there will also be a limited distribution of asylum seekers across all EU states.

But Poland and Hungary categorically reject the solidarity mechanism. Italy’s right-wing government, on the other hand, is pushing for implementation. According to Interior Minister Piantedosi, this would transfer the responsibility of the countries at the external borders to the entire EU.

On September 28th, the interior ministers want to discuss the migration pact again in Brussels. Migration experts such as sociologist Gerald Knaus say that it could still be years before it comes into force and has an impact on the ground.

Tunisia has not yet responded

An agreement between the EU and Tunisia that was announced two months ago is also having little effect. The EU wants to help the Tunisian regime with one billion euros. In return, migration movements are expected to be restricted.

At the moment the opposite is the case, criticizes the Dutch MEP Jeroen Lenaers. The number of migrants is increasing, nothing has changed on the ground in Tunisia.

The EU Commission says that the whole thing is just a memorandum of understanding, so it is not yet a legally effective agreement. President Kais Saied had repeatedly stated that he would not play border police for Europe. The migrants should not stay permanently in Tunisia.

Meloni: “I don’t see any concrete answers”

The agreement with Tunisia was signed by Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni together with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the President of the EU Commission Ursula von der Leyen negotiated. Meloni hailed the agreement as a personal diplomatic success, but admitted in a talk show on state broadcaster RAI on Wednesday evening that there was no final answer to the migration question.

“The question of resettlement to other EU states is secondary. Very few people have actually been relocated from Italy in recent months. This is just a comforting security blanket. The question is not, how do we distribute? The question is how do we stop arrivals in Italy, and I still don’t see any concrete answers to that,” Meloni told RAI.

Hank Peter

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