By Nikolaj Nielsen.
A draft plan agreed some two weeks ago to distribute rescued migrants at sea failed to muster much support among EU states at a meeting of interior ministers in Luxembourg on Tuesday (8 October).
France, Germany, Italy, and Malta had, in late September, put forward a fast-track plan to disembark and relocate people fleeing Libya by boat within four weeks after being rescued at sea.
The four states had hoped at least a dozen would sign up, but on Tuesday only Ireland, Luxembourg, and Portugal agreed to back the initiative.
“We were seven yesterday, seven this morning and seven this evening. So things haven’t changed much,” Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg’s minister responsible for migration, told reporters.
The temporary proposal is meant to end stand-offs among EU states, sometimes forcing charity boats full of rescued migrants to wait for weeks before being able to port and offload the people.
At least 14 such stand-offs have surfaced since last summer, causing grief and stress among those rescued while highlighting the broader political failures among EU states on how to deal with incoming asylum seekers.
Over a 1,000 people have since been transferred to member states and to Norway since June last year.
The issue was further exasperated by EU states like Malta and Italy, which refused to allow the boats to port.
Italy had closed access and threatened massive fines under its previous deputy prime minister, the far-right Matteo Salvini.
But a recent change in government and Salvini’s departure has since seen a softer approach from Rome, which some had hoped would create the extra momentum for support of the latest draft plan.
Salvini’s replacement, Luciana Lamorgese, told reporters she hoped more EU states would join before the end of the year, noting “three or four states that had already said they were available, like Luxembourg and Ireland.”
Asked what went wrong, the EU commissioner for home affairs, Dimitris Avramopoulos, described it as a work in process to be discussed again on a technical level in Brussels.
“We have to continue trying to convince member states. Behind closed doors today we had a very open and frank discussion,” he said.
Maria Ohisalo, Finland’s minister of interior and speaking on the behalf of the EU presidency, said Helsinki was also working to get more countries on board.
“It is evident that we must pay attention to all routes and continue to work vigorously with different challenges,” she said, noting that Greece, Bulgaria, and Cyprus were also experiencing an increase in migrant arrivals.
“In September, 11,500 people arrived in Greece, which is the highest monthly figure since the implementation of the EU Turkey statement,” she pointed out.
The UN convention on the law of the sea, also known as Unclos, imposes legal obligations for states to establish and operate adequate search and rescue services.
Tamas Molnar, who leads the EU’s fundamental rights agency, told MEPs last week that Uclos bound all EU member states.
“This is also incorporated into the EU legal order, since the European Union as a subject of international law, as an entity in itself, is a contracting party to the Unclos, so it is part and parcel of the UN legal order,” he pointed out.