Renzi appeals to EU, UN over migrant crisis

Italy on record pace with over 20,000 rescued so far this year

28 April, 17:53

    An Italian Navy officer looks for migrants' boats in the southern Med An Italian Navy officer looks for migrants' boats in the southern Med

    (By Christopher Livesay) (ANSAmed) - Rome, April 28 - As migrants and refugees pour into Italy by the thousands, Premier Matteo Renzi on Monday vowed to appeal for more commitment from the European Union and the United Nations on tackling undocumented immigration. "Italy will return with determination to ask more commitment on the part of the United Nations and the European Union," in view of Italy's upcoming six-month presidency of the EU Council, Renzi said during a meeting on the Mare Nostrum sea patrol and rescue mission in the Mediterranean.

    The administration of Renzi's predecessor, Enrico Letta, set up Mare Nostrum to prevent further deaths at sea following two migrant ship disasters in October 2013 in which around 400 people died. Monday's high-level meeting, which included the ministers of defence, the interior and foreign affairs, as well as the national head of police, was held to assess Mare Nostrum "for its positive action tackling organized crime, which has brought the arrest of 207 human traffickers" and saved human lives, "but also its critical issues, especially the commitment on the part of the United Nations and the European Union". According to Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, more than 20,500 migrants have already landed on Italy's coasts to date this year - an enormous increase over the 2,500 reported during the same period in 2013. Speaking before a committee on the country's borders earlier this month, Alfano stressed that the number of incoming migrants was on pace "to reach the record levels of 2011, when more than 62,000 people entered".

    Thousands more have arrived since he spoke earlier this month, heightening the concerns about Italy's ability to cope.

    Meanwhile opposition parties on the right have argued the program only encourages migrants to risk their lives and cross the Mediterranean, often in rickety, overcrowded boats. "The Italian government has employed its Navy, which has become a de facto taxi service for undocumented immigrants," said Maurizio Gasparri, a Senator in Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, which requested and obtained a fact-finding investigation into Mare Nostrum "to shed light on its aims". FI has also called for new intervention in North Africa to prevent migrants - many of whom currently travel through Libya or Tunisia - from even leaving its shores.

    Until the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya, the Berlusconi government was paying Muammar Gaddafi billions of euros in colonial reparations in exchange for the Libyan strongman pushing back migrants at sea, who tend to come from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, and elsewhere in Africa. Meanwhile the regionalist Northern League, an off-and-on ally of FI, has called on the government to suspend migrant search-and-rescue patrols altogether because at 300,000 euros per day they are too expensive and represent an "invasion" of Italian shores that benefits human traffickers. Boat arrivals in Italy more than tripled last year from the previous year, fuelled by the conflict in Syria and strife in the Horn of Africa.

    In response to the rising levels of dangerous migration, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has said that Italy must have more financial help.

    The UNHCR has said that the Mediterranean is one of the busiest seas in the world, and urged European Union members to work together on solutions to the migrant situation, which is expected to worsen.

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