European Migration and Diversity

Immigration, Integration and Asylum Forum

EU solidarity under pressure: responses to the migrant crisis in North Africa and the Southern Mediterranean

31 March 2011

Ambassador Ferdinando Nelli Feroci, Permanent Representative of Italy to the EU, said Italy has been involved in the evacuation of EU citizens and the management of the humanitarian crisis on the borders of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. There are a number of challenges for the EU and the question is what can the EU do? The major responsibilities are national - the instruments available to the EU are limited and this weakness will have to be remedied soon. Italy is asking the EU to show solidarity with the instruments it has available, and there has been a quick, positive and constructive response from the Commission, which has already made available some resources. There is a need to strengthen dialogue and cooperation with countries of origin and transit. The EU must be able to translate the principle of solidarity into something practical.

Simon Busuttil, Member of the European Parliament, EPP Coordinator, Committee for Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, said that it was essential to consider what action would be taken if there was a mass influx to the EU of migrants. The reception centres in Malta were almost full, creating tensions between Malta and Italy, but the responsibility was not only theirs, EU solidarity needs to be demonstrated. He had asked the EU Commission to activate the Directive giving temporary protection of displaced persons, and to enable Member States to share in relocation of refugees. Now was the time for the Commission to show true political leadership and to make its own position clear.

Luigi Soreca, Head of International Affairs Unit, DG Home Affairs, European Commission, said that the Commission had been responsive from the beginning. Humanitarian aid had been stepped up, and Frontex and Europol had become involved. The immediate priority is the flow of migrants from Libya, and it is important to have assistance in place to help those in need of international protection. The Commission is considering launching a regional protection programme to help develop capacity to deal with the immediate problems, and in the long term develop appropriate national asylum legislation and systems. Member States will need to work together with the Commission on a possible resettlement policy.

John Fredrikson, Head of Global Issues/EU Unit, UNHCR Brussels, said the large number of refugees was having a big impact on Tunisia and Egypt. UNHCR had mounted an extensive evacuation. There was a need to focus on the humanitarian programme especially for ‘persons of concern’, and in the long term, for capacity building in North Africa that will change the dynamics of society.

Mickaël Franssens, Member of the Board of Migreurop, said it was important to consider how the events in North Africa provided an opportunity to reshape EU migration policy. In the short term it was important to evacuate all third country migrants stranded in Libya. Malta and Italy should not have to carry the burden alone. In the long term it was important to do nothing that would weaken the new authorities in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.

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