The Italian Prime Minister’s Call for an EU Naval Blockade: Experts Question Its Legality
The Italian Prime Minister’s call for an EU naval blockade to prevent small boats carrying migrants to Italy from leaving North Africa is “incompatible” with international law and EU regulations, experts have said.
Meloni’s Vow to Tackle the Surge in Migration
In a video message on Friday, Giorgia Meloni, the far-right leader, vowed to take “extraordinary measures” to deal with a surge in migration. This comes after more than 8,000 people arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa in the Mediterranean over the past three days. Meloni is under pressure to deliver on her campaign promise to stem migration.
EU Response and the Issue of Legality
During her visit to the island on Sunday, President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, acknowledged that the issue was “a European challenge and needs a European answer.” However, experts argue that a naval blockade would go against international law and norms concerning vessels and persons in distress.
Violation of International Law, Says Law Professor
Dr Violeta Moreno-Lax, a law professor at Queen Mary University of London and founding director of the Immigration Law program, states that the law of the sea does not permit states to deploy force as they please. She emphasizes the existence of rules of customary international law that recognize the right to seek refuge in a safe port and the duty to rescue persons in danger at sea.
A Call for a Human Rights-Compliant Approach
Dr Moreno-Lax advocates for a human rights-compliant search and rescue culture in the Mediterranean, in line with Italy’s own law and principles. Instead of investing in deterrence and containment, she suggests promoting a more humane approach that respects the rights and well-being of migrants and refugees.
Tunisia as the Main Departure Point
Rising instability in Africa has driven many people to make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea. Lampedusa, Italy’s southernmost island, has seen a significant influx of migrants due to its close proximity to the Tunisian coast. Tunisia has become the most common place of departure for those attempting to reach Europe.
EU Migration Deal with Tunisia and Criticisms
Giorgia Meloni aims to accelerate a controversial EU migration deal with Tunisia, which aims to stabilize Tunisia’s economy, manage migration, and boost renewable energy. However, rights groups have criticized the agreement, stating that Tunisian authorities have committed serious abuses against black African migrants and refugees.
EU Action Plan: Border Surveillance and Returns
To address the situation, Ursula von der Leyen proposed a 10-point EU action plan during her visit to Lampedusa. The plan includes stepping up border surveillance and returning individuals ineligible for asylum to their countries of origin. While it does not mention a naval blockade, it emphasizes the need to prevent departures and increase support from Frontex, the EU’s external border agency.
The Italian Red Cross and Reception System Challenges
The Italian Red Cross reported dealing with about 2,500 people at a reception center on Lampedusa, which was designed to accommodate only 400 arrivals. Researchers highlight the need for proper management of the reception system, suggesting that larger ships should take migrants to the mainland instead of overwhelming the small island of Lampedusa.
Influx and Tragedy: Migration Statistics and Loss of Life
The number of migrants arriving in Italy has nearly doubled compared to the same date last year, with over 126,000 arrivals in 2023 alone. Tragically, more than 2,000 individuals have lost their lives on the crossing between North Africa and Europe. The recent drowning of a five-month-old baby boy off Lampedusa highlights the urgency of finding viable solutions to this humanitarian crisis.
New Measures and the Cabinet’s Decision
Giorgia Meloni’s cabinet is expected to meet to approve new measures, including the construction of detention and repatriation centers and extending the maximum time migrants can be held for. The outcome of these decisions will shape Italy’s response to the migration crisis and further influence the EU’s approach to the issue.