The migrant boat disaster off Lampedusa has highlighted the struggle of Southern EU members to deal with migrant flows. It is time that Europe steps up and accepts shared responsibilities for the external borders of the Union.
At the moment of writing the number rises to 110 dead and 159 survivors, leaving approximately 200 dispersed. Divers have started searching underwater trying to recover the rest of the corpses. Lampedusa, which is 70 kilometers away from the the Libyan shores, is one of the main ports of entry for thousands of migrants traveling from the African continent.
As the tragedy unfolds, we hear Italian politicians from all parties giving their opinions, condolences and speeches. Italy has declared a day of mourning and Italian’s president Giorgio Napolitano has called for the EU to accept that this is an European tragedy and not only an Italian one. Voices have raised about putting a stop to the continued tragedies that see much too often hundreds of victims dying in their traverse from North African to European shores.
Some of the proposals have been to provide more founding for Frontex to cooperate with Lybia in the implementation of more efficient immigration checks in Libya, stopping the migration flow before they embark on the sea travel. Under the Dublin Regulation, the responsibility of migrants falls under the single member state where the migrant arrives. Italy argues that given the extent of its shores, this needs to be considered as a European responsibility and not only national one.
Some of Italian left wing politicians have raised their voices to condemn the last immigration reform, that passed under the last Berlusconi government. The Bossi-Fini law, which takes the the names of the two ministers from the last Berlusconi alliance government that drafted it, provides greater powers to the Italian Navy to block the entry to Italian waters to migrants boats crossing the Mediterranean when they are still in international waters.
Furthermore, the law was successively modified to include a a criminality clause to anyone who aids clandestine migrants to enter the country. This applies also to fishermen and commercial boats that lend a hand to migrants vessels in need of help. This clause has been challenged several times on human rights basis. In 2007, four Tunisian fishermen that aided a sinking ship with 44 survivors and brought them to Italian shores, were accused of aiding illegal migration.
Although they were absolved, the process lasted 4 years. Since then, fishermen have been afraid of helping sinking boats under the threat of being criminally accused. Actually, it seems that on Thursday there were some fishermen that saw the vessel on fire but were too afraid to help.
According to Fortress Europe, since 2011 there are approximately 6 migrants that die everyday in the crossing of the Mediterranean.
It is time that the Italian immigration law undergoes an urgent review to abolish clauses that push single individuals to violate human rights. Furthermore, it is time that Europe accepts shared responsibilities on the external borders of the Union.
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This piece was reprinted by Migrant Tales with permission.
* Clara Dublanc is a postgraduate in International Relations from the University of Bologna, with an academic background in migration policies, integration and belonging. She currently works as business developer, launching start-ups and enterprises to support local development.