The Italian government has declared a state of emergency on immigration allowing “far right-wing government headed by Meloni to repatriate quickly those she deems to be illegal migrants”. Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) deny receiving distress call despite numerous alerts by NGO hotline. More lives lost off Tunisia where the government denounced UN critique as violence and crack-down on migrants continue.
On 11 April, the Council of Ministers led by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni (FDI/ECR) declared a national state of emergency on immigration following an increase in arrivals to Italy. The state of emergency will be financed with an initial 5 million Euros in funding. Civil Protection and Sea Policies Minister, Nello Musumeci who proposed the state of emergency, commented: “Let’s be clear. The problem is not solved, the solution to which is linked only to a conscious and responsible intervention by the European Union”, continuing: “There is a condition of absolute emergency”. According to Associate Director for the North Africa Program at the Atlantic Council, Alissa Pavia: “This will allow far right-wing government headed by Meloni to repatriate quickly those she deems to be illegal migrants. This will have devastating human rights consequences”. In relation to the allocation of funding to regions in the south of Italy to deal with arrivals is according to Pavia “good news” but she notes that: “€5mil to contain the crisis means Italy DOES have the money to help resettlement centers in the south to process visas more quickly, but refuses to do so. Government is only willing to disburse money when it comes to barring migrants from staying in Italy”. The Commission said that it cannot comment on the state of emergency as it doesn’t know it implies, noting that it is Italy’s national competence to make such declarations. The commission declared that Italy has requested money to address the rise of arrivals. Meanwhile, distress at sea continues and 3,200 people were rescued on the Mediterranean between 7 and 11 April amid bad weather. According to the Interior Ministry, more than 31,000 people disembarked in Italy in 2023 so far after being rescued by Italian authorities, NGO rescue operators or arriving unassisted – nearly four times the around 8,000 arriving in the same period of 2021 and 2022.
Maltese authorities continue non-response tactics. Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) deny being alerted of 400 people in distress adrift on a boat in the Mediterranean Sea between Italy and Malta. “Written communication received by the AFM from the ship captain providing duty of care confirms that no rescue was requested by the people on board” AFM told media. The NGO hotline Alarm Phone stated in response: “How absurd! Since our first alert at 00:50h CEST on 9 April we sent 21 emails to Malta requesting a rescue operation. We also called and asked for rescue, only to be hung up on. Shame on Armed Forces of Malta for lying and denying responsibility!”. Sea-Watch International stated on 10 April: “A merchant vessel has supplied fuel & water to the boat with ⁓400 people on it but has not rescued it following orders from Malta. Currently, the boat is struggling with 1.5m waves, a huge danger. The EU must take its responsibility & rescue the people immediately!”. According to the organisation: “The Italian Coast Guard set out to rescue the ~400 people from the life-threatening situation. Malta must be held accountable for the ruthless ignorance. Preventing the rescue of people for political calculation must be punished!”. Alarm Phone reported on 12 April, that the group was “on its way to Vibo Valentia in Italy, accompanied by the Italian Coastguard”. On 11 April, crew of sea-watch rescue organisation spotted two large boats with up to 450 people on board off the coast of Malta. The organisation said: “In a very similar situation in the past, deaths occurred because Malta did not send help. We call on all ships and coastguards involved to act!”. Meanwhile, the Maltese government has invested 1.3 million Euros in two boats and five vans for the Malta Police Force, co-financed by European funds. According to Police Commissioner, Angelo Gafà, this investment would strengthen the Police Force’s surveillance in the borders of the country and make “Malta one of the safest countries”.
January to March 2023 marked the deadliest first quarter for migrants crossing the central Mediterranean since 2017 – with 441 people including 57 children losing their lives attempting to reach Europe, stated the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The death toll continues to mount. At least 27 people are dead or missing after two boats sank off Tunisia on 8 April and at least 24 dead in a shipwreck that occurred on 13 April, while attempting the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean to reach Italy. There have been at least seven similar shipwrecks off Tunisia since the beginning of March, resulting in more than 100 people dead or missing. More than 14,000 people – the majority from sub-Saharan Africa -have been intercepted by the Tunisian Coast Guard attempting to reach Europe over the first three months of 2023. A number five times higher than during the same period of 2022. The figures for 2023 are “up very sharply because there are many more departures”, said Houssem Jebabli, spokesperson for the Tunisian national guard. Recent controversial statements by Tunisian President Kais Saied, defined as “hate speech” by the African Union, have sparked racist violence against sub-Saharan migrants in the country including the capital of Tunis. Josephus Thomas, a political refugee from Sierra Leone told media “Our lives are under threat,” continuing “The situation is getting worse by the day” and describing mobs of Tunisian men roaming the streets “armed with sticks, knives, and sharp objects, chasing fellow Africans in the neighbourhood”. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) recently called on Tunisian authorities to stop “hate speech and violence against migrants from south of the Sahara”. In response the Tunisian government demanded “greater objectivity” emphasising the need for a “holistic approach that takes countries’ sovereignty and the interests of their populations into account” and claiming that “no hate speech or incitement to racism has been made by official Tunisian sources”. On 11 April Tunisian police used tear gas to disperse homeless migrants sheltering outside UNHCR offices demanding evacuation. EU and Italy continue close cooperation with Tunisia on migration management and have been criticised over complicity in the “irregular migration crisis” in the country. According to Alissa Pavia: “Italy is absolutely PANICKED and instead of reaching agreements with Tunisia to find durable solutions to migration issues, they are pleading (literally BEGGING) the IMF to disburse a loan that Tunisia itself doesn’t want to sign. Talk about undermining a country’s sovereignty”.
On 8 April, at least 11 lives were lost at the Atlantic route when a boat carrying people attempting to reach the Canary Islands capsized off Morocco. The victims included eight Moroccan nationals, as well as a couple and a two-year-old child from sub-Saharan Africa. According to the Spanish NGO Caminando Fronteras, more than 11,200 migrants had died or disappeared between the beginning of 2018 and December 2022 trying to reach Spain, an average of six per day. ECRE member CEAR reported that Spain has been the third country in the EU with the most asylum applications – More than 118.842 asylum cases were registered. At the same time, Spain was the third with the least recognized international protection in 2022 – Only 16.5% approvals of asylum files, compared to the 38.5% European average.
For further information:
- ECRE, Mediterranean: EU Blamed for Increase of Departures from Tunisia and Loss of Lives, NGO Rescue Ship Blocked, UN Report Notes Systematic Torture by EU Supported Libyan Authorities, April 2023
- ECRE, Mediterranean: Another Deadly Tragedy Sparks Renewed Critique of EU and Member States over Lack of Response, New Decree from Italian Government Focusing on Punishment and Exclusion, March 2023