Italy’s Aquarius refusal presages a tense summer

Aid worker on the Aquarius © Getty images
The EU is not coping with the migrant crisis

Spain’s offer of a safe harbour to the 629 migrants aboard the NGO vessel Aquarius after Italy refused to welcome them is a relief to the “desperate souls” on board, says the Financial Times. But it “highlights the need for all European countries to engage directly and equitably with the migration problem”.

This is the first time Italy has turned away a vessel since the start of the Mediterranean migrant crisis in 2013, and signals the determination of the new interior minister Matteo Salvini to “fulfil his campaign pledge” to stem the flow of migrants from Libya, says Nicholas Farrell in The Spectator. Italians have had enough.

More than 700,000 migrants have been ferried to Italy over the past five years, and although most want to move to Britain, France or Germany, in 2015 France suspended the Schengen agreement at the Italian frontier, leaving them “stuck”. It will be interesting to see how many more migrants Spain is prepared to accept from Libya.

Spain’s compassion is commendable, but this action, “however well meaning, is not going to resolve this problem and risks fuelling the illegal smuggling which the EU is trying to close down”, says The Daily Telegraph. The “more hard-headed must question” whether the “very presence” of rescue vessels such as the Aquarius is “encouraging people to pay traffickers and risk their lives“.

Italy’s refusal not only sends a message to the rest of the EU that it is “no longer prepared to shoulder” this burden, it is also a warning to “those in Libya who can influence the flow of migrants and refugees”, says The Economist.

There has been a recent increase in the number of migrants leaving Libya, “which may be an attempt to ensure Italy’s new administration is as generous as the last”. So far, however, there is no sign that Salvini intends to lift his ban on NGO vessels. It seems we are in for “a tense summer”.