Fourteen member countries of the European Union have agreed to a new “solidarity mechanism” proposed by Germany and France to allocate migrants across the bloc. French President Emmanuel Macron announced the new agreement on 22 July. Foreign affairs and Interior ministers of the EU gathered in Paris to discuss immigration and security issues following an initial meeting in Finland the week earlier.
“The conclusion of this morning’s meeting is that, in principle, 14 member states, at this stage, have expressed their agreement with the Franco-German document,” Macron told journalists.
Of these 14 member states, eight said they would actively take part and have agreed to share the resettlement of migrants rescued in the Mediterranean while six other nations backed it “in principle”. The eight countries are Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Portugal.
The six member states that backed the deal in principle have not been named.
Italy’s Interior minister Matteo Salvini, whose country is at the forefront of the migrant influx in Europe, did not take part in the meeting. However, Italy took in almost all of the migrants rescued by humanitarian groups at sea until a populist coalition government took office in 2018 and immediately sought to close the nation’s ports to the charity ships.
President Macron said he would be against releasing EU funds to those nations that refused to cooperate:
“Europe can’t be à la carte when it comes down to solidarity. We can’t have states which say ‘We don’t want any of your Europe when it’s about sharing the burden but we do when it’s about structural funds’.”
Macron also said France had asked the Libyan government to ensure migrants would no longer be placed in custody in Libya and that appropriate measures would be taken to ensure their safety. Libya is one of the main departure points for migrants and refugees fleeing poverty and war in the Middle East and Africa and attempting to reach Europe.
Thousands of migrants attempt to cross the Mediterranean to Europe every year, and Libya has become one of the main departure points that has left many migrants exposed and exploited by gangs. Those who make the journey often travel in poorly maintained and overcrowded vessels, and many have died. But since mid-2017, the number of migrant journeys has declined largely due to efforts by Italy and other EU countries to encourage Libya to stop migrants from crossing the Mediterranean – a policy condemned by many human rights organisations.
In a statement, Doctors without Borders (MSF) said the EU’s stance towards people fleeing Libya was resulting in “organized human suffering on an industrial scale.”
Humanitarian group SOS Mediterranee said it was doing all it could in the face of intense opposition from some EU countries. “Every effort is made to scare and to prevent ships from doing their job,” Frederic Penard, head of operations at the NGO, told a press conference in Paris.
In a joint statement, the heads of the UN refugee agency UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration said: “The crucial role played by NGOs must be acknowledged. They should not be criminalised nor stigmatised for saving lives at sea.”
At present, NGO boats must try to find a country ready to admit them each time they rescue migrants and refugees, leading to time-consuming negotiations between EU member states.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at least 426 people have died during attempts to reach Europe in the Mediterranean sea so far this year. According to the International Organization for Migration, that figure is nearly 700, almost half as many as the 1,425 registered in 2018.