Five EU member states agree on new temporary relocation scheme to share responsibility of migrants and refugees rescued at Sea

On September 23, the interior ministers of Germany, France, Italy, Finland and Malta agreed on a temporary and voluntary scheme to divide migrants that arrive or are saved from the Mediterranean Sea among the five countries, outside of an EU framework. The proposal aims at relieving Italy and Malta from the high number of migrants and refugees that are arriving at their ports and moves away from the actions of the previous Italian government led by Matteo Salvini, who forbade several rescue boats to dock in Italy. The five countries hope that the scheme may set up an EU-wide relocation scheme that can increase the efficiency of resettling those rescued at sea.

With the new left-leaning Italian coalition, there may be more space for negotiation. The new government has recently opened its harbor for a rescue boat that saved 182 people in the Mediterranean Sea. The new Italian prime minister, Guiseppe Conte, has committed to reviewing the anti-immigration policies that forbid rescue ships with migrants and refugees to dock, seizing these rescue-ships and fining rescue-vessels that dock without approval.

Large Influx of refugees in Italy

Over the past couple of years, Italy has seen a large influx of people arriving at its shores. Due to the Dublin Regulation, asylum seekers who arrived at Italian borders have been largely forced to stay in the country or have been returned to it, thus leaving a big responsibility in the hands of Italy.

French President, Emmanuel Macron, called out other European nations to share the responsibility by saying that “[t]he European Union has not shown enough solidarity with countries handling first arrivals, notably Italy” as well as “France is ready to develop this in the framework of overhauling the Dublin accords”, suggesting that a change in the European asylum system must be enforced to release the pressure on Southern European and other border states.

Meanwhile, the Italian foreign minister, Luigi Di Maio, claims that “the problem of migrants can’t be solved by redistributing them in other European countries but rather by stopping departures,” referring to the EU-Libya deal on preventing refugees and migrants from crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. However, the conditions in Libyan detention centres have been highly criticized for violating human rights. People in the detention centres endure a lack of basic necessities, violence, rape, as well as being sold to traffickers.

With the new deal, ministers hope to gain supporters

The interior minister of Finland, Maria Ohisalo, states that it is “crucial that we move away from ship-by-ship arrangements” previously used because of the ban on rescue-ships. She added the scheme will help to “find a safe harbor without delay, thus avoiding additional hardship for migrants, and ensuring swift relocation of asylum-seekers on a voluntary basis to other member states.”

The current scheme is put in place until October 8. On that day, the plan will be presented to the other EU member states. The European commission wants all other member states to participate in the relocation scheme. However, since it is voluntary, this is not likely to happen. Hungary has already indicated that they will not be taking in any migrants under such a deal.

Whether the relocation scheme is going to be successful is yet to be seen. According to Malta’s Interior Minister Michael Farrugia, this “all depends on the support of all or most of the other EU countries in accepting to participate in the disembarkation and distribution of migrants”.