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Italy's policy of closed ports is over

Rome demands an automatic distribution of refugees boats within the EU. Some states are open, but with restrictions.

At the weekend, 82 refugees and migrants who had been rescued six days earlier by the Ocean Viking of aid organizations SOS Mediterranée and Doctors Without Borders were able to land in Lampedusa. It was the first private rescue vessel for 14 months. The closed-harbor policy adopted in the summer of 2018 by former Secretary of the Interior Matteo Salvini has in fact been overridden by the new Five-Star Movement and the Social Democratic PD.

The Ocean Viking was granted permission only after some other EU states agreed to take 58 of the 82 refugees. Germany and France will each receive 24 migrants, Portugal eight, and two will go to Luxembourg. The remaining 24 refugees remain in Italy. "The solution adopted for the Ocean Viking marks the end of Salvini's propaganda on the backs of refugees and the return to good international relations and finding viable solutions to the global problem of migration," said Italy's Minister of Culture Dario Franceschini of the PD.

Ocean Viking as a new refugee pact
According to the Italian Government, the Ocean Viking model should be used a new refugee pact at EU level: every time a ship with rescued refugees requests the allocation of a secure port, a mechanism must automatically be set up at European level, which calls for the distribution of migrants among the Member States, Only when the distribution was regulated, a port would be assigned to the rescue ship. The distribution of rescued refugees was "compelling," said Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte last week to the designated EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

The message seems to have arrived: Germany's Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said last week that his country was basically ready to take over 25 per cent of the rescued from rescued refugees. Similar signals came from France and other states. It was high time to say goodbye to the "torturous procedure" during which the refugees had to be distributed individually over Europe with each incoming rescue ship - and that only after weeks of wrangling, emphasized Seehofer. The takeover of a quarter of refugees from the rescue ships would not "overwhelm" Germany's migration policy.

Only a small proportion of the refugees affected
This is undoubtedly true: the envisaged mechanism, which will be on the agenda for the next meeting of EU interior ministers in Malta on 23 September, is in fact only a very small part of the refugees and migrants arriving in Italy - the rescued. Of the more than 6,000 people who arrived in Italy since the beginning of 2019, only just under 1,000 had been brought by private or government rescue vessels - over 5,000 arrived with their own boats. These are not covered by the new Refugee Pact - including those 120 refugees who entered the port of Lampedusa on the same day that the 82 Ocean Viking refugees landed.

And even of the few rescued refugees, only a small part is expected to be flown out to other EU states: France has already made it clear that a new regulation should only cover refugees who have the prospect of asylum or other humanitarian protection. So-called economic refugees - who make up about 85 to 90 percent of boat people from Africa - will not taken by France. For this reason, Conte also urges increased efforts by Brussels to negotiate readmission agreements with the countries of origin and to invite them with the commitment of development aid as an incentive for the respective states.

EU funds should be cut
On the other hand, Conte calls for negative financial incentives for EU countries that - like the Visegrad states of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia - refuse to show any solidarity in the distribution of refugees. According to the will of Rome, these countries should be cut in EU funds. Italy is the fourth largest net contributor to the Union after Germany, the UK and France, while the Visegrad countries are all net beneficiaries, with Poland at the top. This means that the Italians subsidize those countries that do not take a single refugee from them via the EU pots. The reduction of EU funds has already been demanded by previous Italian governments - but never had a chance in Brussels. (Dominik Straub from Rome, 15.9.2019)

"Italiens Politik der geschlossenen Häfen ist zu Ende" (Der Standard, 15-09-2019)

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