Italy has threatened to close its ports to foreign aid groups looking to offload migrants on its shores, citing the ongoing migrant crisis as having reached a “saturation point.”
In just the past week, over 10,000 migrants arrived in Italy on foreign vessels belonging to international aid groups like Doctors Without Borders. Italy has been at the forefront of the European Union’s efforts to cope with the historic levels of migration in recent years. The Italian Coast Guard has been responsible for rescuing tens of thousands of people.
Many thousands of the migrants wind up in temporary camps all throughout Europe, but with Italy being the primary point of entry to Europe from across the Mediterranean, it has shouldered a heavier burden than other members of the EU. Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni has said other EU members are “looking the other way.”
Half a million migrants have landed in Italy alone since 2014, according to the BBC, and hundreds have died making the perilous journey across the sea. Italy has previously made calls for more assistance from its European neighbors, but it appears the Italians are at their tipping point. In April, accusations were made that some humanitarian groups were colluding with human traffickers in Libya.
Italy’s geography in this case is working against it. Its southernmost location, far into the Mediterranean Sea, makes it the closest European country to many of the North African nations which serve as the launching point for most migrants looking to escape Africa. In Libya in particular, where a lack of law and order has plagued the country for years since the ouster of Gaddafi, the security vacuum has allowed human trafficking to explode.
Migrants fleeing Africa are doing so for a variety of reasons, and are part of a separate set of issues from the more politically charged refugee crisis emanating from Syria. Nonetheless, their presence and increasing numbers, without a comprehensive strategy to effectively handle the influx of people needing assistance, has polarized many Europeans.
Italian lawmakers are currently sifting through the legality of imposing such a restriction on aid vessels.
Featured Image courtesy of Wikipedia and Irish Defence Forces from Ireland – LE Eithne Operations 28 June 2015, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41249816