The stage has been seemingly set for a major row between various factions of Europe to battle it out regarding immigration policies. Recently, France and Italy exchanged harsh rhetoric concerning the subject and the ties between the two nations have since deteriorated.
Europe is at the center of a crisis sparked by migration. In 2015 alone more than a million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe. A number of countries in the continent struggled to handle the influx of people entering their territories. Countries within the EU have had disagreements on how best to deal with the problem while also helping those seeking refuge.
Much of the migration from Africa comes to Italy. According to figures released by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 98,072 people came from Africa to Italy from January 2017 to August 23rd, 2017. Italy has worked with Libya to address migration. It should be noted that compared to the same period last year, Italy saw 7,000 fewer migrants reaching its shores.
In 2017, leaders from African and European countries came together for a key meeting in Paris to discuss a solution to stem migration to Europe. The meeting was convened by French President, Emmanuel Macron. The heads of Niger and Chad were present as well as Fayez al-Sarraj, the head of the Libyan government that is backed by the UN. These countries are in the transit route for most who flee Africa in order to escape oppression and violence.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Spanish and Italian Prime Ministers Mariano Rajoy and Paulo Gentiloni, and Europe's top diplomat Federica Mogherini were also present. During this meeting, the European nations agreed to help Chad and Niger to help improve their border controls. At the time, Macron said, “The idea is to create hotspots to avoid people taking crazy risks when they are not all eligible for asylum. We'll go to them.” He also noted that the meeting was amongst the most effective ones that has been held in the recent past. He added, “We must all act together - from the source countries to Europe and passing by the transit countries, especially Libya - to be efficient. It’s a challenge as much for the EU as for the African Union."
Recently, Italy and Malta's refused to allow a refugee rescue ship to dock at their ports, amid growing uncertainty for the hundreds of people on board, including 123 unaccompanied minors. This decision has proved to be highly controversial.
In June 2018, the stage seems to be set for a major row regarding immigration in Europe. France and Italy have traded insults regarding the issue. Italy cancelled an upcoming meeting between the Italian economy minister and his French counterpart. This is because French president Macron had pointedly criticized Italy’s decision to turn away a migrant rescue ship and said that the government had acted with “cynicism and irresponsibility”.
It should be noted that Italy’s new government is one of the most far-right governments in Europe. Italy's new right-wing Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said it "would be right not to go to France" unless Paris officially apologised for its comments on the rescue ship.
The ship in question is called Aquarius, which is also an NGO. In order to prevent what was deemed as a humanitarian decision, Spain stepped in to provide safe harbour to the ship. Human rights groups have also roundly criticized the decision taken by Italy. "If allowed to go unchallenged, [this] will discourage and compromise the lifesaving work of NGO's leaving thousands of migrants and refugees adrift in the Mediterranean," Elisa De Pieri, Amnesty's Italy researcher, said.
However, the main row seems to be between Italy and France. Leaders from both countries have traded harsh rhetoric. Italian Deputy PM Luigi Di Maio added: "I'm glad the French have discovered responsibility. If they want, we will help them. Let them open their ports and we will transfer a few of the people to France."
Italian officials accused Paris of hypocrisy, noting that the French government had previously resisted accepting migrants from the Mediterranean, by policing their border with Italy. “[Italy] cannot accept hypocritical lessons from countries that have always preferred to turn their heads the other way on the immigration issue,” a statement from Prime Minister Conte’s office read.
The controversy regarding refugees isn’t just centred on France and Italy when it comes to Europe. Recently, interior minister, Horst Seehofer, pulled out of an integration summit hosted by the chancellor, Angela Merkel. He noted that Germany should be following the example of Austria and Italy when it comes to addressing illegal immigration.
As Europe remains deeply divided on the issue, Filippo Grandi, the head of the United Nations refugee agency, said the Aquarius incident was “profoundly shameful” for the entire continent. Meanwhile, Aloys Vimard, the Médecins Sans Frontières project coordinator onboard the rescue ship, said there was an urgent need for “politicians to discuss this, and for the EU to find a dignified solution for these vulnerable people. We are very, very concerned because political considerations are being prioritised over the safety of vulnerable people.”
Our assessment is that given the instability that exists within multiple African nations, it is unlikely the migration and refugee crisis will be solved in the near future. However, it is important that Europe comes together to address this issue in a manner that does not affect the most vulnerable that flee their own homes. The current trend should be a concern to centrist leaders like Macron and Merkel who espouse more liberal policies when it comes to taking in refugees.