Immigration: Italy seeks asylum overhaul
Speaking ahead of this week’s EC meeting Italian Prime Minister, Enrico Letta described the tens of thousands of African migrants who have flooded the streets of Sicily as a crisis deserving of emergency action.
“Beyond these immediate measures, it’s obvious to everyone that the tragedies we are witnessing require a broad assessment of the European Union’s immigration and asylum policies.
“Are these policies adequate? I don’t think so,” Letta told reporters on Tuesday.
Last week Italy stepped up naval and air patrols with four patrol ships, long-range helicopters and unmanned drone aircraft to track boats carrying immigrants in the southern Mediterranean.
Migration to Europe has increased over the years due to chronic instability in Africa and the Middle East.
Despite growing xenophobia and economic marginalisation against Italy’s African immigrants, Africans continue to escape to seek refugee in the country.
According to figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, over 32,000 migrants from Africa and the Middle East have arrived in Italy and Malta so far this year.
Some of the Africans trying to cross over often meet fatal ends at sea.
This month alone, over 550 African migrants died in two separate boat-sinking disasters.
Several survivors have said they were spotted in distress by fishing boats that did nothing to help, due to the 2002 Bossi-Fini law, which made it an offence to offer aid to illegal immigrants.
However, Letta called for the law to be scrapped, and has asked for more resources from the Frontex border control agency and Eurosur, a pan-European border surveillance system, to reduce migrant deaths at sea.
On April 19, 760 people landed in Lampedusa in one of the largest single landings the island has ever seen.
Under current European law, most asylum seekers who enter without proper authorisation are obliged to remain in the country where they first arrive in Europe.
However, the rise of anti-immigration parties in countries such as France, Italy, Greece, the Netherlands, Belgium or Finland have made governments reluctant to extend asylum protection.
Although Italy’s immigration control efforts have received support from Finland and Slovenia, Letta called for a more intensive effort under the main EU treaty.
“The discussion on Thursday and Friday will be decisive for getting this on the right track and we won’t accept lowest common denominator compromises in Brussels,” he added.
Most of the boats that make the journey originate in Tunisia, but increasing numbers are coming from Libya.