Debate over migrants divides EU; Mini-summit seeks solutions

Cornelia Mascio
Giugno 25, 2018

Germany's ultra-conservative interior minister has threatened to end the coalition government with Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats amid a growing row over stricter measures to address the refugee crisis.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday she would seek direct deals with separate European Union states on migration, conceding that the bloc was unable to quickly find a joint solution to an issue that is threatening her government.

Draft conclusions included calls to speed up returns to countries tasked with processing them, such as Italy.

Failure to agree on how to deal with the challenge of migration threatens the EU's border-free travel area, one of the biggest accomplishments in the bloc's 60-year history.

Instead, she said, "bilateral, trilateral and multilateral" deals must be reached to tackle the issue a message echoed nearly word for word by her spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer at a Berlin press conference.

The EU should also work more with Africa, tighten borders further and explore setting up bases outside its territory where it would decide on asylum requests before migrants make it to its soil, and hold them there if their cases were rejected, he said.

French President Emmanuel Macron also echoed Merkel's suggestion of members acting in smaller groups.

Italy's new prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, leads a coalition in which an anti-immigrant party has dominated the debate. The UNHCR says around 40,000 people have arrived in Europe by sea so far this year, some 16,000 in Italy, 12,000 in Greece and 12,000 in Spain. Italy has refused it entry, saying Lifeline had acted improperly by taking on board migrants who the Italian coast guard had assigned to the Libyan coast guard to rescue.

Last week Italy refused to allow the NGO-ran Aquarius to dock in its ports because migrants were onboard, signalling the beginning of the new Italian government's hard line anti-migration policy.

Malta's home affairs minister, Michael Farrugia, and Italy's transport minister, Danilo Toninelli, engaged in a Twitter war of words Sunday over which country was being more "inhuman" about the fate of the Lifeline and its passengers.

Even though new arrivals have dropped, the political consequences of migration pressures are still reverberating around Europe.

With a populist backlash over her initial open-door policy toward asylum-seekers, Merkel emerged weakened in recent elections.

As tensions rise between Rome and Paris as well as Rome and Berlin, the top-level talks are created to help clear the heavy air for a previously scheduled full summit of all European Union leaders on Thursday and Friday.

European Union states have waged migration wars since arrivals spiked across the Mediterranean in 2015, when more than one million refugees and migrants reached its shores across the Mediterranean.

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