March 5. 2024. 2:48

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Redistribution of migrants ‘never my priority’, says Italy’s Meloni

The redistribution of migrants across Europe “has never been my priority” Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni told journalists at a press conference on Friday (10 February) after the conclusion of the European Council.

On migration, EU leaders agreed to step up their efforts on repatriations, fighting irregular migration, protecting EU borders, and on brokering agreements with third countries.

EU leaders harden rhetoric on migrant returns, divided on border fences

EU leaders adopted their toughest stance on migration in recent memory at a special summit on Thursday (9 February), against the backdrop of irregular border crossings hitting their highest level since 2015.

“Redistribution [of migrants] has never been my priority […] Focusing on the issue of redistribution instead of the external dimension has limited effectiveness,” said the Italian premier.

According to Meloni, “redistribution never worked”. She mentioned the agreement reached in June 2022 by 21 EU member states, where the Voluntary Solidarity Mechanism was established.

“In Italy, less than 200 out of 8,000 migrants were redistributed in 8 months,” said Meloni.

Meloni described the summit’s conclusions on migration as a success, saying that for the first time the bloc agreed to face the challenge at “EU level”, stressing the importance of “partnerships with Africa” and “the specificity of the maritime borders”.

These issues have been discussed at previous summits such as the European Council in June 2018, where a common EU approach was also demanded.

“The European Council reaffirms that a well-functioning EU policy requires a comprehensive approach to migration combining more effective control of the EU’s external borders, enhanced external action and the internal dimension, in line with our principles and values,” the document stated.

However, the words “relocation” and “solidarity”, which are present in the conclusions of 2018, are not in the document approved on Thursday (9 February) night.

This time, the accent is posed on relocation of migrants not in the EU but from the EU to third countries, with which EU leaders aim to have more and more agreements.

Italy and Northern Africa

In January, Meloni’s government began a series of trips to North Africa, particularly to Algeria, Libya and Egypt, to put in place a series of agreements on migration.

Late last month, Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani tightened relations with Libya with an agreement which states that Rome will give Tripoli EU-funded boats to embark migrants and bring them back to Libya.

The Italy-Libya accords were heavily criticised recently by the high commissioner of the Council of Europe Dunja Mijatović, who warned that they would lead to a systematic violation of human rights.

In particular she condemned the ‘Memorandum of Understanding with the Libyan Government of National Accord’ which “plays a central role in facilitating the interceptions of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants at sea, and their subsequent return to Libya”.

She called for a suspension of the memorandum because of “considerable evidence documenting grave human rights violations faced by refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants in Libya”.

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