The ministers supported the European Commission’s new plan to help Italy in the recently intensified migration crisis. The plan is intended to give the EU’s foreign policy high representative, Federica Mogherini as well as Italy and other member states the means to take quick action.
According to Minister of the Interior Andres Anvelt (SDE), the first steps will be implemented in the coming few days. EU commissioner for migration, home affairs, and citizenship, Dmitris Avramopoulos, was critical of those member states that haven’t yet taken in migrants from Italy. Estonia is one of them.
Avramopoulos pointed to the EU’s aim set half a year ago to resettle 160,000 migrants, not a large number in the present context of the crisis. The numbers of people received by member states had recently risen, which gave him reason to be optimistic, the commissioner said.
At the same time, there were a few member states left that still needed to take action. Avramopoulos called them to hurry up: the distribution plan was common European policy agreed on in Luxembourg already two years ago. “This is obligatory, and a proof of what we really mean when we talk about solidarity. Solidarity isn’t some slogan, it means that we question the actual existence of the European Union,” the commissioner said.
Anvelt stressed that the focus needed to be on a more effective deportation policy. “Tens of thousands of those who have come to Italy are economic migrants. They need to be dealt with politely and according to human rights, but within this framework sent back to those countries they come from,” Anvelt said.
In the minister’s opinion, this is the only way not to damage the balance the EU’s member states have found between themselves. The refugees that could be granted asylum or protection weren’t the issue, but rather those that abused the EU’s weaknesses and the fact that Libya was presently incapable of getting smugglers under control, Anvelt said.
Human rights organizations critical of the plan
The EU’s plan is facing sharp criticism, as human rights organizations find that it won’t do enough to rescue the people trying to cross the Mediterranean. The EU was leaving the lion’s share of this work to volunteers, they claim.
Answering an according question by ERR, Avramapoulos said that the volunteer organizations were the EU’s partners, and that the EU’s politicians were acting based on the same principles as those of the NGOs. The EU recognized and acknowledged their role, especially in search and rescue operations, but migration flows needed to be stopped despite the duty to save lives, the commissioner said.
Closer cooperation necessary
The Commission’s action plan puts a lot of weight on cooperation with Libya. Most of the migrants arriving in Italy cross the Mediterranean coming from there, among them plenty of citizens of other states that travel through Libya on their way to the EU. The commission has allocated €46 million to strengthen the Libyan border and coast guard, to speed up relocation out of conflict zones, keep illegal immigrants from entering Libya, and to return people from Libya and Nigeria back to their countries of origin.
Estonia has recently allocated an additional €1 million towards this effort, after an earlier contribution of €450,000—proportionally a substantial amount, considering Estonia’s size, as Anvelt pointed out.
Amnesty International is calling the agreements with Libya “cynical”. The director of the organization’s European institutions program, Iverna McGowan, said on Thursday that leaving more and more to the Libyan coast guard was irresponsible and ineffective, and would lead to even more deaths in the Mediterranean.
According to Anvelt, the EU’s most important task is to look for partners that can help defend Libya’s waters and rescue people there. A large territory that acted as a gate to the EU for migrants from all over the world couldn’t simply be ignored. “We don’t have another option,” he said.
Estonia expected to contribute information solutions
The Commission stresses in its action plan that the competencies of EU border guard agency Frontex for the deportation of refugees need to be elevated from the level of the member states to that of the EU. At the same time the Commission also sees the necessity to support Frontex with rapid response forces of the member states.
The importance of cross-border cooperation was stressed also in terms of the availability of support. Anvelt pointed out that where one member state decided to send a migrant back, another might not automatically learn about that decision. In this situation, information was duplicated and the administrative workload increased, which again delayed sending the migrant in question back.
Avramopoulos said he had great expectations to Estonia’s presidency to come up with the needed information systems and solve the problem of the availability of the information needed for the EU’s action plan to work.
Editor: Anette Parksepp, Dario Cavegn