Migrants in Lampedusa: “Europe persists with inapplicable or unimplemented plans”

Migrants in Lampedusa Europe persists with inapplicable or unimplemented plans

In mid-September, more than 10,000 migrants wishing to reach Europe landed in Lampedusa, where scenes of chaos followed one another. In response, the European Commission is proposing a ten-point emergency plan, including more control by Frontex (the European migration police), facilitation of returns, prevention of episodes of mass arrivals and a mechanism for distributing asylum seekers on a voluntary basis. But the continental solidarity, which Rome is calling for, remains nowhere to be found, explains Matthieu Tardis, director of the Synergies migrations research center.

L’Express: Is Italy right to be angry at the lack of solidarity from its partners?

Matthew Tardis: Yes, and successive Italian governments of all stripes, from the left to the current coalition of the right and far right, with Giorgia Meloni, have all had this reaction. But there is an old dispute between the countries of first entry of migrants, such as Italy, and the receiving countries, such as France, Germany and the Nordic countries, which many migrants join once they disembark. The latter criticize the countries of southern Europe for not taking their responsibilities regarding the registration of asylum requests (while migrants are required to do so in the country of entry) and for being uncooperative on readmissions.

Can the ten-point emergency plan proposed by the Commission improve the situation?

A priori no. It gives the impression that there has only been one path for migration policies for twenty years, without us being able to talk about other approaches, whether they are more restrictive towards migrants. , which would pose problems in terms of human rights, or more protective. This was the case with the Ukrainians, after the Russian invasion. They were able to settle wherever they wanted and benefit from certain rights, such as the right to work. This more coordinated, more liberal approach worked well. We nevertheless persist with plans that are inapplicable or unimplemented, both by the Member States and the countries of departure or transit. The European Commission is not at fault, but the Member States.

For what ?

Politicians explain that this is what the population wants. But we thus give a lot of credibility to the incantations of populist and far-right parties, while zero immigration is a utopia. The parade of European officials in Lampedusa shows the extent to which the migration issue is being exploited, with the European elections in their sights. But by dint of politicizing it, and speaking, for some, of a situation of invasion, governments are creating the conditions for their own failure: no country in the EU is able to have stable political majorities.

THE migration pactunder discussion for four years, can it be adopted?

For this, France and Germany would have to be able to convince Poland and Hungary, who have already said no. Ursula von der Leyen’s Commission has taken up the file, trying to learn from the mistakes of the previous one, which failed to adopt a series of directives on asylum. She is keen to show that the EU can adopt decisions and act on immigration. Unfortunately, the opposite is happening. The French and then Swedish presidencies of the EU have made it possible to move forward on certain points, by lowering the protection standards initially set by the European Commission, but this will not be enough. However, time is running out: the pact must be adopted before the end of the year and the cessation of the activities of Parliament, which will be renewed during the June elections.

Migrants wait in front of the Lampedusa reception center, September 16, 2023 in Italy

© / afp.com/Zakaria ABDELKAFI

What’s blocking?

Each country has its own history of immigration, with its own, very national perception of diversity. Very schematically, there are three blocks: the countries of first entry, from the South, from Spain to Greece, which demand more solidarity and distribution of arrivals. The countries of the North-West, including France and Germany, which are willing to welcome migrants, but only if the countries of the South register these asylum seekers with them. Finally, there are the countries of Central Europe, which do not want to welcome anyone, hence the Commission’s proposal for a financial contribution of 20,000 euros per asylum seeker not accepted.

Does the question of maintaining a supposed cultural homogeneity, mentioned by certain countries such as Poland and Hungary, really arise?

This homogeneity is a myth, a political construction which serves strategies of accession to power, by playing on the fear of voters and by creating internal borders between categories of citizens, based on their religion or their skin color. These countries remained closed to the world during the communist era and today perceive Muslims as a threat. But an asylum seeker sent to Hungary will have left after three days: it is also in the EU’s interest that they go to countries where they have solidarity networks, where they speak the language and where they will have more prospects of professional and social integration.

More than 127,000 migrants have landed on Italian shores since the start of the year – double compared to the same period in 2022. What are the reasons for this influx?

A population from sub-Saharan Africa who lived in Tunisia, sometimes with a residence permit, now plans to take to the sea. This is the result of the increase in violence against these populations, in a context of “great replacement” carried out by local authorities. Before, departures from Tunisia were mainly caused by Tunisians.

However, Brussels recently signed an agreement with Tunisia to contain departures…

It’s a little early to take stock. But the error is always the same: we make agreements, mainly security ones, with countries that are not reliable, as is the case with the one concluded with Tunisian President Kaïs Saïed. Tunisia, the only country that had successfully completed a democratic transition after the Arab revolutions, is in the process of politically sinking. For the EU, we should see how to improve the living conditions of sub-Saharan populations in Tunisia, and even of the country’s inhabitants.

This is one of the points of Ursula von der Leyen’s plan: is it so simple to speed up expulsions?

If that were the case, we would have done it already. It is easier to remove nationals from the Balkans, because it is less far away and they are EU candidate countries. And then the countries of origin have no interest in readmitting illegal nationals to Europe. Money transfers from diasporas bring in much more money than development aid, and go directly to the populations. And then, there is no employment assistance for this population made up mainly of young adults. For local authorities, it is better not to take them up again, because they risk being a factor in social unrest.