Italy has threatened to close all of its ports to ships of foreign NGOs carrying migrants and refugees, after being overwhelmed by the arrival of 12,000 migrants in four days on 22 ships. The UN Migration Agency said 8,863 migrants were rescued trying to reach Italy from Libya, and the EU’s border agency Frontex said its boats had recovered an additional 2,700 people. About 76,000 migrants have arrived since January, and some estimates say that 220,000 people could land in Italy by the end of 2017. The ships cross the Mediterranean Sea from Libya and mostly contain African refugees. In one Italian port in Reggio Calabria alone, 1,066 people disembarked from the Save the Children rescue ship Vos Hestia on Thursday. Among them were 241 unaccompanied minors.
# According to a European Council official:
"In recent years people smugglers have launched massive numbers at the same time. But this year we are witnessing levels never registered before in such short periods of time.
Loss of life and continuing migratory flows of primarily economic migrants on the central Mediterranean route is a structural challenge and remains an issue of urgent and serious concern.
The EU and its member states must restore control to avoid a worsening humanitarian crisis."
Italy agrees that the EU must restore control. Italy says that it is unable to cope with this year's expected flood of refugees, and is demanding help from the European Union, or else it will close all its ports to ships carrying migrants. Since the rescue operations do not take place in Italian waters, Italy is under no obligation under international law to take the refugees in, according to some experts. Analysts say that this would be a humanitarian catastrophe because the ships would have to be diverted to other countries, for which they have inadequate provisions.
One of the NGOs operating rescue boats said that it understood the pressure that Italy was under, but:
"However, we also believe that closing the ports of safety to people seeking refuge from war, violence and poverty cannot be the solution. We would like to stress again that NGOs are not the cause, nor the solution to this humanitarian crisis. Without our presence at sea, even more people would die." VOA
The kind of help that Italy would like is that refugees arriving in Italy should be distributed to other European countries, but there isn't a snowflake's chance in hell that will happen. In 2015, the EU agreed that 160,000 asylum seekers should be relocated from Greece and Italy to other member states, in the name of burden-sharing. To date, only about 22,500 of the 160,000 have actually been transferred. Several central and eastern European EU members - including large countries like Hungary and Poland - have absolutely refused to take in any asylum-seekers.
However, some EU officials are offering Italy financial aid.
Italy's threat may be based in politics, in the wake of of a Sunday local election rout for the ruling center-left Democratic Party, which several commentators blamed on public discontent with rising immigration and government proposals to grant citizenship to children of foreign residents. The opposition Forza Italia party of former premier Silvio Berlusconi - seen as one of the winners of the local election, said the government had responded to its urgings for a tougher line on migration.... Deutsche-Presse Agentur (dpa) and Guardian (London)