While the Mediterranean refugee crisis may have vanished from the front pages, the tide of human misery continues to wash up on Europe’s shores. Italy is now the main point of arrival, with all those rescued off the coast of Libya brought to Italy, often by private charities. Italy received 60,228 migrants in the first five months of 2017 alone, with 1,562 unfortunate souls reported to have drowned during that time. And more boats are sent out almost daily.
Tracking data from Frontex, the EU Border Agency, shows that most migrants claim to be from Guinea, Nigeria and Ivory Coast, followed by Bangladesh, Gambia, Senegal and Morocco. Many have lived in Libya for years as foreign workers in the service and construction sectors, or as domestic help.
An intense debate is now raging in Rome about whether NGOs, like Save the Children, are waiting to rescue people off Libyan coastal waters, thereby acting as an incentive. There is some evidence that people smugglers are notifying NGO ships before setting to sea with their human cargo.
The Italian coastguard has tried turning smuggler boats back, only for their evil operators to scuttle them, forcing an immediate rescue. Italy is now resorting to desperate – and illegal – measures including refusing docking privileges in their ports to boats not carrying Italian flags. This is seen primarily as an attempt to force the EU – and Mrs Merkel in particular - to take action. However, so far the EU’s only plan appears to be combating poverty in Africa, which will take many years.
To add to Italy’s miseries, and despite the Schengen agreement, which mandates open borders within the EU, her neighbours are actively preventing migrants from moving north as they did in the past. France has re-instated border controls at Ventimiglia and Austria has moved troops and armored vehicles to the Italian border.
Furthermore, at the end of July, The European Court of Justice ruled that Austria and Slovenia can deport asylum seekers because, under the EU’s Dublin rule, they must seek asylum in the country where they first arrived. This ruling is guaranteed to have far reaching consequences, particularly for Germany, which allowed one million asylum seekers to enter Germany in 2015.
Meanwhile, the flood of refugees into Greece has decreased to a trickle, with Turkey paid by the EU to accept returnees from Greek refugee camps until they are processed. The arrangement was always morally suspect and NGOs, like the Norwegian refugee Council, International rescue and Oxfam say Greece is being used as a testing ground for degrading policies on refugees that are “eroding international protection standards.” In many cases, Greek appeal courts have deemed Turkey an ‘unsafe’ country for returns.