Italy’s decision to turn a blind eye to the plight of migrants is all the less comprehensible as the country has a strong history of migration, said Rigoberta Menchú, the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize winner, while congratulating Spain for allowing the ship to dock in Valencia.
“What are some 600 refugees in comparison to the 60 million inhabitants Italy has?” she asked, speaking to reporters on the sidelines of an international conference in Bilbao, Spain.
On 10 June, Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, leader of an anti-immigration and far-right outfit in the coalition government, said his country would start saying no to what he termed human trafficking and illegal immigration, and thus refused to assist the Aquarius ship.
The vessel carrying 629 migrants has remained at sea in the Mediterranean after both the Italian and Maltese governments, the two nearest European territories, refused to grant it permission to disembark.
On 11 June, Spain’s new prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, ordered the countries’ authorities to receive the ship.
Menchú spoke to a group of journalists during the “Equality, Diversity and Inclusion” conference organised by the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) in Bilbao on 11-13 June. The CEMR represents 130,000 cities, towns and regions through 60 national associations from 42 European countries.
“Countries have a duty to do a humanitarian act in order to prevent the sacrifice of human lives. And I would like to congratulate Spain for its decision, the country just set an important example on that matter,” the Nobel Peace Prize laureate added.
She said the immigration waves towards Europe in recent years “are the results of a crisis in the refugees’ home countries”.
“If individuals led a satisfactory life in their home countries, they wouldn’t need to leave everything behind and risk their lives to find a new country for a better life,” she said.
According to her, coordination and collaboration between immigration countries and European countries is what is needed to bring back job stability.
“People leave because of poverty and right now we see an immense poverty, more cruel than it was some twenty years ago”, she observed.
40 million contemporary slaves worldwide
“Poverty is linked to unemployment, especially youth unemployment, and people are ready to leave their countries to find work,” Menchú insisted.
She stressed that this situation – which involves poverty, migration and looking for a job – leads to modern slavery.
“There are 40 million modern slaves in the world right now,” she said, specifying that she was using numbers published by Amnesty International and other NGOs acting on the ground.
According to Amnesty International, human trafficking is the modern day slave trade and one of the fastest growing forms of slavery.
Traffickers use deception or coercion to take people away from their homes and victims are then forced into a situation of exploitation, such as forced labour or prostitution, the NGO says.
«In Latin America, we think there is no slavery but in fact, there is, as well as in countries that are not in the focus of public attention like Nepal,» the Peace Nobel Prize laureate explained.
European Parliament urges EU leaders to action
The same day, MEPs released a statement urging EU leaders to show real political will and draw up genuine solutions to finally end the migration crisis, some of them calling Italy’s decision a “disgrace” and a “scandal”.
European Parliament President Antonio Tajani also called on EU leaders, who will reunite 28-29 June for the next EU summit in Brussels, to press ahead with overhauling the Dublin rules. He also pointed out that the European Parliament had adopted a clear position on the matter, based on solidarity.
Some of the political groups want to put an end to formal discussions on migration and start working towards an agreement on the so-called Dublin system of asylum in the EU.
Some groups further stressed the need to build new European reception centres to assist migrants arriving in transit countries, while other highlighted that a solution to solve the migration crisis, based on quotas and mandatory reallocation of refugees, simply cannot work and that other options need to be put on the table.