By European Green Party co-chair Monica Frassoni
I am Italian and European, and I am not happy. As I write this there are 630 people on a ship trying to reach the only country, Spain, that has offered to welcome them.
The current government in Italy is ready to highjack its partners in Europe using these 600 plus people, to push them to act towards an entirely fake “emergency”.
Italy is a country of over 60 million inhabitants, a G7 member with the capacity to take in a serious share of asylum seekers, and even to reopen the discussion about legal channels of migration. But many of these 60 millions have been convinced that our main problems are the invasion of migrants and the euro, and not a slow economic recovery, bad salaries, inequality, corruption and inefficient administration.
On the other hand, it is clear that the main basis of the Dublin regulation is not sustainable, especially in the absence of a system of automatic relocation and a more swift and harmonised asylum processing system. Italy’s (and Greece’s) requests for solidarity and for respecting the relocation quotas have often been met with a metaphorical and sometimes literal wall. Austria sent the army to the Brenner border, just to name one. And France? Ventimiglia is more often than not a barrier, with migrants being pushed back towards Italy by a full display of gendarmerie force.
Macron said very harsh words against Italy, calling out its cynicism in denying the MV Aquarius ship permission to dock in the country, against the appeal of several mayors from Southern Italy who are opening their ports (Palermo, Naples, Messina, Taranto, Crotone and Reggio Calabria etc.). His spokesperson Gabriel Attal went as far as to say that this attitude “makes him vomit”.
We have been strongly criticising and expressing ouright opposition to Salvini’s stance on migration ever since he came to power. But it is extremely hypocritical of France and Macron to take the high moral ground.
France is the third country in the EU in terms of asylum requests after Germany and, yes, Italy: 91,000 for France vs 130,000 for Italy in 2017. But, and here is one very big difference, France ranks only 26th out of 28th Member States in terms of receiving refugees, an average of 1 out of 3 (the EU average is 1 out of 2). France has also relocated only 635 migrants (635!) from Italy, within the framework of the EU resettlement scheme. By comparison, Germany relocated 5,434 people. Only Poland and the Czech Republic proportionally refuse more asylum applications than France.
Moreover, the French police is at this point quite infamous for its brutal and often inhumane treatment of migrants at the Ventimiglia border: the news of a pregnant migrant woman who was violently dragged out of a train in Menton and sent back to Italy last April. Before that, a Nigerian woman (also pregnant) was pushed back, again by the French police, to Bardonecchia: she was ill, and she died soon after in a hospital in Turin. In Briançon, a French Alpine guide was prevented by the police from taking a pregnant woman to the hospital.
Should I also mention the “blitz” of the French police who entered the Bardonecchia train station (Italian territory), where the NGO Rainbow4Africa has installed a support centre, in order to force a migrant man to take urine tests?
If Monsieur Macron is so outraged at Italy’s behavior, why did he not follow Pedro Sanchez’s example and open up French ports, which have been firmly shut for years?
Why was it Valencia, and not Marseilles? Spain also had always been violently opposed to receiving migrants. What changed? The government did. Pedro Sanchez has quite an opposite approach to both Rajoy and Macron, as well as Salvini. And Valencia itself not only has a mayor who is part of a Green coalition, but the person responsible for rescue operations is the vice-president of the Comunitat Valenciana Monica Oltra, who is herself part of this Green coalition. Interestingly enough, Valencia was already willing to open its ports to migrants back in 2015, but had been prevented from doing so by former PM Mariano Rajoy.
The difference is political, and it is political will that is needed to find a way out of this collective European hysteria. It takes politics to open up legal channels of migration, to reinstate an effective EU-wide relocation system without opt-outs and, most importantly, to adopt the reform of the Dublin system as proposed by the European Parliament, which would take the biggest burden off the shoulders of the countries of first arrival (mainly Italy and Greece) and redistribute them equally among the other EU member states.
This would be concrete solidarity. What Madrid and Valencia are doing is concrete solidarity. But more ships are coming. On Tuesday a ship carrying about around 1000 migrants docked in Catania.
The solution cannot be to merely push everyone back, or to play table tennis among national governments with the lives of people escaping war and hunger. One of the main reasons why Italy now has an extreme right-wing government is because the population felt abandoned by their fellow Europeans, after hearing so much about this supposed European solidarity.
Macron should be the first one to make amends. Not throw accusations, but build bridges. And open France’s ports.