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Malta Summit: A Landmark Agreement for Migration in Europe

Gone are the days of demagogy in Italy. No more unhealthy anti-migrant propaganda without the courage to find real solutions. No more live videos on Facebook, Twitter posts and interviews released at the seaside between a Mojito and the club. Politics is done in appropriate fora.

Two weeks after stepping into power, the new Interior Minister, Luciana Lamorgese has shown that it is possible to find open solutions to the migration crisis within the EU, after months of harsh migration policies and growing Euroscepticism.

On Monday, she gathered in Malta with the interior ministers of France, Germany, Finland and Malta and with Dimitri Avramopoulos, EU Migration and Home Affairs Commissioner, to set out a plan for a safe, automatic, fast and fair redistribution of migrants who arrive in Europe. According to the Italian Ministry of Interior, as of 24 September this year, 6,851 migrants have disembarked in Italy. In the same period, the number of migrants who arrived in Italy was 21,024 in 2018 and 103,302 in 2017. During the Malta Summit on migration, Ms. Lamorgese proclaimed:

“Whoever arrives in Malta or Italy, arrives in Europe”,

Thus demonstrating what seems to be a turning point in Italy’s policy towards migrants.

The agreement

The new agreement entails the automatic redistribution of all asylum seekers, not only those who have already obtained refugee status, on a compulsory basis, through a mandatory quota system established by the 28 members of the EU. The deal is only limited to the migrants who were rescued by NGOs and military boats. Their redistribution will be very fast – up to 4 weeks.

Moreover, this plan focuses on a rotation mechanism for the ports of entry, versus “the nearest port”, a practice that has been in use so far, with Italy, Malta and Greece, often being the main ports of arrival. The agreement also includes another issue at the centre of the debate; any repatriations. If asylum is rejected, repatriations will be managed by the country of destination, rather than the country of arrival.

What changes?

The new agreement is trying to overcome the gaps in the Dublin Regulation, which has socially and politically isolated countries such as Italy and Malta with the disembarkation of migrants and their asylum process. Previously, migrants were registered at the hotspot of the country of arrival. If they requested asylum, they were only allowed to start the application in that country and were stuck there, while awaiting the results of their application.

Furthermore, in the case of rejected asylum, the countries of arrival, such as Italy or Malta, had to manage the whole repatriation process by themselves, which was very complicated. This particular issue angered many Italians and was wrongly used by several politicians in their propaganda speeches. In the case of Italy for instance, controversial former deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, promised to “fill the planes and bring migrants back home”, when the reality is actually much more complicated. Italy only has agreements for repatriation with a few countries: Tunisia, Egypt, Gambia and Nigeria, and partly with Morocco. When countries don’t recognise these people as their citizens, repatriation is not possible. In addition, Italy only has few centres for the recognition of migrants (Cpr) and the costs to carry out repatriations are extremely high, and of course if other European countries supported managing the repatriations, Italy and Malta would face less pressure.

What comes next & political reactions

The document of the new agreement will be presented to the other 24 EU member-states on 8th October in Luxembourg. So far, there are 10 countries that are believed to support the mechanism, including Portugal, Ireland, Luxembourg, Greece and Spain. Will other EU members join it? The countries refusing to be involved could face economic sanctions.

Once again, the far-right have already jumped on this opportunity to use the agreement to bolster their racist rhetoric. According to the German right-wing party, this agreement, “will cause the next wave of migrants instead of protecting German borders from an unbounded mass migration”. Italy’s Salvini commented on the news saying that plan, “is a big scam for Italy”.

Concerns over the agreement

Many have already criticised the deal reached in Malta, especially because this agreement is only related to the migrants rescued by NGOs or military boats. It doesn’t apply to migrants who arrived by other means.

But realistically, the geographical position of Italy, Malta and Greece will always make these countries a more obvious point of arrival compared to other EU countries.

According to research led by the Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI) only 8% of migrants who arrive in Italy have been rescued by charity boats, out of the 3073 migrants who disembarked in the country between January and June 2019. So, if the announcement, “Whoever arrives in Malta or Italy, arrives in Europe” is really true, then the European Union will have to come up with a complete plan to redistribute all migrants who arrive, not only those saved by NGOs or military boats.

In addition, one of the agreement clauses includes the possibility of the suspension of the plan, if the migration flux increases significantly. Many believe that other European countries, as has happened before, will pull out of the deal very soon. Many NGOs are also concerned about the ongoing agreement with Libya: the Libyan coast guard will keep working to stop illegal immigration. Once they intercept migrants, the Libyan coast guard will bring them to detention centres; now infamous for the severe human rights violations that occur there.

A step forward

The agreement reached in Malta is a step forward for the migration crisis, for the concept of “Europe” which is quickly crumbling , for countries of arrivals, such as Italy and Malta, and moreover for migrants themselves.

For Italy, this agreement is a break with the past. Not only because it will now probably receive more support, but also because of the halt of the tough migration policies imposed by Salvini. Under the former government, charity rescue boats were banned from entering Italy’s waters. This led to a form of inhumane arm wrestling between Italy and other EU countries, with migrants spending weeks on board the rescue boats, waiting for safe harbour. In many of these cases, there were pregnant women, children and sick people on board, as well as, those who had already gone through considerable emotional trauma.

It’s too early to celebrate, but Italians can afford to be more optimistic. A competent woman, Ms Lamorgese, has already tried to do her best after only around 2 weeks in office. She has restored dignity to the country and to the concept of “being a politician”. We have just come out of an era where our former Interior Minister, refused to take part in many EU migration meetings and used social media to incite hatred towards the European Union and towards migrants themselves.

The propaganda against migration in Italy has so far made Italians too uncritical and powerless. No real solutions have been presented to them. Their concerns over the number of migrants entering the country without a clear strategy may or may not be understandable. However, Ms. Lamorgese’s effort should be considered a beginning for a more equal, organised and humane management of the migration crisis in the region.

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