ROME—Illegal immigration and tragedies at sea will no longer be an Italian matter only. At least this is the intention of Brussels: supporting the efforts of the Italian ‘Mare Nostrum’ with the European program ‘Frontex Plus’. This is a humanitarian operation which faces the current unusual huge wave of illegal immigration towards the Italian coasts.
Meetings are supposed to take place between Italian institutions and various European community agencies, especially with the European Agency for the Management of External Borders (Frontex). The problem to be solved is, to reach a common action at the Mediterranean Sea, according to Michele Cercone, spokesperson of the EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström.
«Summit meetings will cover the possibility of launching an operation ‘Frontex Plus’ for assisting Italy in its efforts to cope with the increasing migratory pressure and asylum seekers at the Mediterranean», said the spokesperson, stating, however, that no binding decision has been taken yet.
The numbers involved are demanding. According to the Italian Ministry for Home Affairs, since October 18 2013 – when the ‘Mare Nostrum’ was launched – about 120 thousand people have been rescued – 4,000 just last weekend. They landed on Italian territory, leading to the arrest of over 500 smugglers. The mere economic costs are not light. Aduc, one of the biggest Italian consumer’s association, estimated about €300,000 a day, which means around €95 million so far.
«Either Europe will deal with the immigration issue or Italy will have to take their own decisions», Angelino Alfano Minister for Home Affairs tweeted. He also claimed that illegal immigration as a result of escapes from war and persecution, isn’t an Italian problem only.
However, unconfirmed reports submitted by an anonymous source in Brussels suggest that replacing the ‘Mare Nostrum’ program with the European Frontex approach «is not an option, because there are neither funds nor the means», reported the newspaper La Repubblica.
Illegal immigration from African countries at the Mediterrean Sea is also a reality in Spain (14,800 people) and in Greece (1100 people). But the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recognizes that the highest numbers are scored towards Italian coasts.
«This dramatic situation at Europe’s sea borders demands urgent and concerted European action, including strengthened search-and-rescue operations at the Mediterranean, ensuring that rescue measures are safe and incur minimal risks for those being rescued», told UNHCR’s senior spokesperson, Melissa Fleming, to journalists in Geneva, adding that “this year, around 1900 people lost their lives in an attempt to reach the European soil.”