A fresh wave of immigrants may soon be hitting Italy, the EU President has warned. Reuters reports:
“The numbers of would-be migrants in Libya are alarming,” European Council President Donald Tusk told the European Parliament a day after Austria said it planned tighter controls on its Italian border in anticipation of a summer migrant surge.
Noting that anarchy in Libya ruled out for now the kind of deal made with Turkey to block what was last year’s main route into Europe via Greece, Tusk said EU allies must be ready to help manage new arrivals within Italy, as well as on Malta.
But in referring to last year’s chaotic movement of nearly a million people from Greece that saw EU states closing borders with each other, threatening the bloc’s cherished Schengen zone of passport-free travel, Tusk warned of a similar threat if Italy and its EU partners did not cooperate to contain flows.
“As regards the Balkan route, we undertook action much too late, which resulted among others in the temporary closure of the borders inside Schengen,” he said of the many months it took to enforce EU rules obliging asylum seekers to remain in Greece.
“This is why our full cooperation with Italy and Malta today is a condition to avoid this scenario in the future.”
But its an open question as to what that was look like. In the case of the Balkans route, the “action” that the EU “undertook” was mostly legitimizing post-hoc a series border closures among the myriad national boundaries one has to cross to get from Greece to Germany. That’s not so in Italy, which runs right up to the Alps; the most popular route from there crosses only through Austria before Germany. As a result:
Austria, which with France and Germany has long complained that Italy simply “waves through” migrants heading north, has said it expects double last year’s 150,000 to reach Italy and will tighten controls on the Brenner Pass frontier.
Rome has rejected criticism but some EU diplomats are concerned that Italy, which saw arrivals fall last year, may not be able or willing to accommodate a new surge and to hold people while asylum claims are assessed, as Greece is now doing.
Nearly 10,000 people reached Italy last month, compared to fewer than 2,300 in March 2015, U.N. data shows. Arrivals in Greece from Turkey have fallen significantly since Ankara agreed to take back all migrants, including Syrian refugees. Reaching Italy is much riskier than Greek islands off the Turkish coast.
Even though it’s riskier, Italy is the next-easiest destination, and it also lies across from Libya. For these reasons, it has been one of the two major destinations for crossings throughout this crisis.
It was gob-smackingly obvious after Europe signed its deal with Turkey that this was going to happen. It’s outrageous, though sadly not surprising, that Italy and the EU appear to not have been prepared for this.