The Italian Prime Minister, Paolo Gentiloni, last week issued a plea to his European colleagues for help in dealing with migrants crossing the Mediterranean. Combined with the threat to close off Italian ports to vessels disembarking migrants from search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea, the Italian government called for more burden-sharing generally in distributing migrants across the EU. This entreaty was reiterated on Sunday, July 2nd, in a meeting of Justice and Home Affairs ministers from Italy, France and Germany. It is certain to feature predominantly at the EU meeting of Justice and Home Affairs ministers on July 6th and 7th.
The background to this call is a marked increase in irregular crossings from Libya to Italy – the so-called Central Mediterranean route – a situation that has been complicated by reports of more than 10,000 refugees and migrants arriving in Italy in recent days. Statistics from Frontex (the EU’s border agency) indicate that arrivals and asylum applications are roughly 25% higher in Italy than at the same time last year (see Figure 1) – a figure that is likely to increase with the release of data from June. First-time asylum seekers in the period from January to April are up by 50%. If arrivals follow a similar pattern to that of previous years, where summer is the prime time for irregular Mediterranean crossings, the EU is likely to hear from Italy again rather soon. Another reason for the plea lies in the lack of implementation – to put it mildly – of the one-off relocation scheme decided in 2015, whereby 35,000 asylum seekers located in Italy are to be distributed among member states before September of this year. Currently, only 7,300 have left Italy under this scheme (EC, 2017).