Italy to keep accepting stricken migrants during EU talks

Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Enzo Moavero Milanesi (2-L) and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (R) arrive for a joint press conference after their meeting in Berlin, Germany, 23 July 2018. [Clemens Bilan/EPA/EFE]

Italy agreed on Monday (23 July) to continue accepting migrants rescued at sea, at least until a broader EU strategy to address fair distribution of people can be defined.

Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero Milanesi said after talks in Berlin with German counterpart Heiko Maas that EU partners would seek a solution on migration policy within the next five weeks.

“During this time, we ensure that ships with rescued people can dock in Italy,” he told reporters, confirming the “will of our government” to hammer out “common positions with our EU and NATO partners”.

But he added that Rome saw it as a priority “to overhaul the operational rules so as to avoid all the rescued people landing in one country”.

Maas expressed sympathy for the view in Rome that “they have been left alone” with the problem of arriving migrants, while noting that arrival numbers were currently rising much faster in Spain while falling in Italy.

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“At the same time, we expect all EU states to uphold existing agreements. Sea rescues are one of those areas of agreement,” Maas said, adding he was pleased to see “a shared desire for solutions”.

“If the countries of the Mediterranean are asking for European solidarity then they have an ally in Germany,” he said.

Germany is prepared, Maas said, to “assume its responsibility” in negotiations to reform the European military operation Sophia commanded by Italy and launched in June 2015 following a series of deadly shipwrecks with migrants.

Over the last decade, the Italian coastguard has coordinated the rescue of hundreds of thousands of migrants off the coast of Libya, in many cases pulling them from the water themselves in treacherous conditions.

But as of June, they have been ordered to transfer calls for help and reports of boats in distress to the Libyan capital Tripoli.

Amid a bitter European dispute over migration policy, Italy’s new populist government had said Friday it was closing its ports to boats carrying people rescued at sea.

The Italian position and its implications were discussed at a meeting on Friday by member states in Brussels where diplomats said countries agreed to a “strategic review” of the EU’s own naval operations.

“The aim remains to reach a consensus on future action within a European framework and in an orderly process,” an EU source told AFP.

Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj meanwhile rejected the EU proposal for asylum processing centres in his country, saying: “We are strictly against Europe officially placing illegal migrants who are no longer wanted in the EU in our country.”

Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia were also approached by the EU but have already refused to host such centres.

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