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Italy PM Gentiloni asks the EU to help deal with the surge in migrants, Merkel open but Macron holds back

by Carlo Marroni

Italy wants concrete responses on migrants from other European countries. As a new migration emergency develops in the Mediterranean, Italian Premier Paolo Gentiloni put the issue at the center of a meeting in Berlin between heads of state in preparation for the G20 in Hamburg next week.

“We are facing rising numbers which could put our reception system to a hard test. We have internationalized the rescue operations, but the reception remains in one country alone. This puts us under pressure: we are not violating the rules, nor do we want to give up a humanitarian approach, but we are asking for the concrete contribution of Europeans,” Gentiloni said at the end of the meeting.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel assured her closeness to Italy, French President Emmanuel Macron kept a distance on “economic migrants,” and European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker recognized Italy’s exceptional effort: “For a lot of time, we have been convinced that we cannot abandon neither Italy nor Greece. Together we have to make efforts to sustain these two nations, who are heroic,” he said.

Yesterday’s meeting gained strong significance after the recent mass embarkations of migrants, but it is also linked to another meeting last week in Brussels, where immigration from the central Mediterranean was for the first time defined as a “structural problem” and no longer an emergency. And it was recognized in the concluding document of the Council that collaboration is necessary not only on search & rescue operations but also on the sharing of landings, as repeated yesterday by the Italian premier.

“Our strategy is well-defined,” said Gentiloni. “It moves from Africa, from the most exposed countries as origins of the flows, it concentrates in Libya, and bears its first fruit with the support of the Libyan coast guard and the camps in Libya, and it has to be increasingly efficient in the fight against the traffickers that cross the sea,” he said.

The Italian premier used the occasion yesterday to call for a discussion on “the role of NGOs, the Frontex mission and the resources available to work in Libya and in other African countries.”

The demonstrated willingness will have a first outlet next Wednesday during the meeting of interior ministers in Tallin, Estonia. Italy has an ally in Germany: “We will help Italy, the need is close to our heart. I hope for an agreed solution,” Merkel said.

Asked about the situation on the Ventimiglia border between France and Italy, Macron took a different position on migrants who do not have the status of refugee.

“We support Italy, and France has to do its part on asylum for people who seek refuge. Then there is the problem of economic migrants: 80% of migrants that arrive in Italy are economic migrants. We must not confuse those,” he said.

European Council President Donald Tusk affirmed that the final document of the G20 will have to contain “a concrete reference to the fight against traffickers of human beings: I would ask to evaluate sanctions at the European level against these traffickers and to put them in the United Nations black list.”