Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Thursday that the European Union had left Italy alone to cope with flows of Mediterranean migrants from North Africa, adding that the EU approach to the migration issue is short-sighted.
“Up to now, Italy has been left alone and it has saved Europe’s honour… But if we continue to proceed with short-sighted interests, Europe will continue in a spiral of crises that we won’t come out of. It is a problem that regards everyone,” Conte said at the presentation of the annual report of Italy’s intelligence network, as quoted by the ANSA media outlet.
In December 2018, the Council of the European Union decided to prolong the Operation Sophia, formally European Union Naval Force Mediterranean (EU NAVFOR Med), aimed at rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean Sea as well as countering human trafficking, for three months until March 2019. The mission was extended despite objections from Italy saying earlier that it did not consider it possible to continue the Operation Sophia unless the mission’s operation rules were modified.
In August 2018, Italian Defense Minister Elisabetta Trenta proposed during an informal EU meeting in Vienna to modify the rules of the Sophia mission, and rotate the ports where migrant rescue ships dock to lift the burden on her country. However, no agreement on the matter has been reached so far.
In January, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said that Italian ports remained closed for migrants rescued in the Mediterranean Sea by non-governmental organizations.
Earlier in February, Conte said that the European Union needed a structural approach to migration problem, including a mechanism forcing other member states to share the migration burden.
A total of 8,950 migrants have crossed into Europe by sea this year through February 24, which is 10 percent less than during the same period in 2018.
Europe has been facing a large influx of migrants since 2015, and although the number of new arrivals has gone down since that, the issue of accommodating migrants and refugees remains acute, especially for Spain, Italy, and Greece, which often serve as points of first entry into the European Union.