EU, Italy talk tough on migration but action won't be easy

10 months ago 68

ROME - Three years ago, when EU naval mission "Sophia" was shut down after rescuing 45,000 migrants in the central Mediterranean, Italian opposition leader Giorgia Meloni was jubilant. Now, as prime minister, she wants to bring it back.

But this time she is calling for the European Union ships to focus on blocking migrant departures from North Africa rather than saving lives at sea, something experts on migration and international law say is unfeasible.

Meloni's change of tack comes after seeing her right-wing government's election promises to stop sea arrivals from North Africa undercut by landings on the island of Lampedusa.

Well over 10,000 migrants reached the Italian island - whose permanent population is about 6,000 - last week.

Lampedusa sits in the Mediterranean between Tunisia, Malta and the larger Italian island of Sicily and is a first port of call for many migrants seeking to reach the EU.

"It (the Sophia mission) is exactly the proposal I intend to bring to the next European Council when we talk about immigration", Meloni said in a television interview on Sunday, hours after visiting Lampedusa with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

"Sophia", like previous EU and Italian naval missions, was opposed by Meloni and other right-wing politicians because they said it encouraged migrants to sail to Europe, often on flimsy boats, in the likelihood they would be rescued.

Critics say her idea of redeploying the ships to block departures is against the law and impracticable.

"Trying to put together a naval blockade would be an illegal, unthinkable act of war ... that would have devastating effects," said Ferruccio Pastore, head of the International and European Forum for Research on Immigration (Fieri).

Pushing back boats would violate international asylum rules and the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as being operationally dangerous, Pastore said, evoking a precedent involving Italy and Albania.

In 1997, an Italian navy ship enforcing a naval blockade that Rome and Tirana had agreed on to stem migration across the Adriatic Sea collided with a migrant boat. The shipwreck killed 81 people.

FRICTION WITHIN EU

Reviving "Sophia" would also raise the issue of where to send rescued migrants. In 2020, it was discontinued as other EU nations balked at Italian requests to have them redistributed around the bloc. ...

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