The Strategist

To accept or not to accept: The dilemma of migrants in Europe

06/18/2018 - 14:49

The rescue vessel Aquarius with refugees from Africa has moored yesterday to the Spanish coast. More than 600 of its passengers can now apply for a refuge or residence permit in Spain and France. However, the conflict between the European countries around the popular migration routes is still flaming: more ships with migrants will go through the Mediterranean in a warm season, and Rome has already refused to accept them.

Aquarius is a former German fishing vessel, which the non-governmental organization SOS Mediterranee has been renting for several years. Human rights defenders have repeatedly sent migrants from Africa and Syria to Europe on board of this vessel. This time the ship followed from Libya to Italy, but the Italian government refused to let migrants into the country and on June 12 closed its ports for any ships with refugees. As a result, Spain agreed to accept Aquarius, which means that it had to pass by sea not 400 km, as originally planned, but four times more.

"It was raining in the morning, the deck and steps are wet and slippery. Mostly, people are lying on the deck - pregnant women, nursing mothers, babies and small children, patients with burns and those who managed to get out of the water," Coordinator of Médecins Sans Frontières Aloys Vimard tells about the last hours of the trip. In 2016, the media reported that Aquarius can accommodate up to 500 people, but this time there were 629 refugees on board.

People from 26 countries, in particular from Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, South Sudan, as well as from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, gathered on the overloaded ship. On Twitter, Médecins Sans Frontières tells stories of the ship's passengers: a woman from Sierra Leone who fled with daughters from the threat of female circumcision; those who had to face violence and slavery in Libya, with hunger in the desert of the Sahara. Italian Coast Guard handed food and toys for children, and also allocated two additional vessels, Dattilo and Orione, and several hundred police and border guards for escort.

On the coast of Valencia, migrants were greeted by Spanish Red Cross workers, police, lawyers and volunteers: they examined the arrivals, provided medical assistance and helped them fill out the documents. According to the medical examination’s results, more than two dozen people were taken to hospitals.

A medical examination and the necessary documents will end the long way from Africa for the majority of those who have come to Valencia. First, they will be placed in temporary refugee camps, then in permanent camps. Yet, Europe warns that not everyone will receive shelter.

The rescuers have to undergo a security check and apply for a refuge or residence permit, if they have the right to do so. Some of the migrants will go to France, which agreed to consider separate applications for asylum. According to the Spanish media, applications for moving to France mainly come from citizens of Algeria and Morocco, that is, countries in which the French language is common. The official representative of the French government, Benjamin Griveaux, said that the authorities of the country cannot yet say how many migrants from the ship will eventually be able to remain in the French territory. "France will accept them if they meet the criteria defined in the law," Mr. Griveaux noted.

Although the story with Aquarius ended, European countries are still unable to find a compromise over the issue with migrants. A number of prominent politicians and public figures, including the Pope, called to remember first and foremost the ideals of humanity: more than 500 people drowned in the Mediterranean Sea only since the beginning of this year, and it is inhumane to leave the new sufferers without any help.

On the other hand, the decision of the Italian authorities to refuse to admit the next vessel with refugees was supported by 80% of Italians. According to the European statistical agency Eurostat, the number of asylum seekers in the EU increased from half a million in 2014 to 1.2 million in 2015-2016, and then decreased to 650,000 last year. About 20% of these applications were received by Italy (another third - Germany and the tenth part - Greece). The remaining 25 EU countries are ready to host far fewer refugees. Since the beginning of the year, Italy has taken 40% of migrants who crossed to Europe via the Mediterranean, Greece - about 35%, Spain - 25%.

In these circumstances, Rome expressed outrage at the reproaches in his address. Thanking Spain for taking 629 migrants, the head of the Italian Ministry of the Interior, Matteo Salvini added: he would be even more grateful if Spain received 66,629 migrants, as much as Italy in the last year.

Now, as Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Comte said on Friday after meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, Rome will prepare its own proposals for partners to radically change the Dublin agreement on the reception of migrants.

"Our collective organization is unsatisfactory. Its measures are not adapted to the situation. Europe lacks efficiency and solidarity," the interlocutor admitted.

Meanwhile, Matteo Salvini warned yesterday: two more ships with refugees are on the coast of Libya and Italy warns in advance that it will not accept them. Yet, Médecins Sans Frontières and other human rights defenders keep insisting: they will continue to save people's lives and Aquarius will go for new passengers soon.


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