ROME — As the refugee crisis now enters its third year, many countries in Europe still continue to reel from its impacts. Refugees in Italy, in particular, are facing insurmountable pressures in the year 2017, with border and resettlement agendas nearly disintegrating.
In a recent move, the Italian government declared a controversial code of conduct that calls for a repatriation of refugee and charity boats in the country. Constructed by the Italian government, an informal meeting with the European Justice and Home Affairs Council on July 6th, 2017 first heard the new 11-point draft plan. Many stakeholders, such as aid agencies, have not heard the policy as of yet.
The disproportionate distribution of refugees over Europe is attributed as the source of the problem. Many countries have not been able to fulfill their roles in accommodating the necessary number in their borders. Despite the EU-Turkey Deal formulated last year to curtail the influx of refugees, Europe is still barely able to cope with the migrant exodus. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), nearly 103,175 migrants and refugees tried to cross European borders this year.
The coast of Libya is often a major point of origin for a large proportion of refugees in Italy. Migrant boats are often poorly built and need assistance after leaving Libyan waters. The lack of satellite phones often makes the boats difficult to monitor.
Organizations such as Doctors Without Borders have allegedly claimed that the government pays them to smuggle people. The Italian government has also cited that refugees in Italy are part of human trafficking rings, and that vulnerable women and children are often forced into prostitution. With the implementation of the new code, the Italian government hopes to crack down on illegal smuggling and bribery at the hands of border coastguards. Policing and regulation will also become stricter and more routine to ultimately protect the rights of refugees in Italy.
However, the new policy may have unforeseen effects on thousands whose lives hang in the balance. The short term impacts of the problem may only debilitate the refugee crisis to a greater degree.
Amnesty International has condemned the recent actions of the government. According to a damning 31-paged report, EU policies are not safeguarding and protecting the rights of refugees. Many human rights violations in Libyan detention centers have been reported. Libyan coastguards have not been able to cooperate and coordinate their efforts well with EU governments.
Furthermore, the new code of conduct will have impacts on NGOs and other humanitarian organizations providing aid to the refugees. The country will bar NGOs who do not adhere to the demand from entering the country.
As many refugees in Italy enter the country illegally, it is also of vital importance to develop more legal avenues so that they would be less likely to experience refoulment and other complications. As a short term solution, in a ‘nuclear option,’ Italy is planning on providing over 200,000 migrants temporary EU visas to stabilize the massive influx of refugees into the country in recent months.
To combat the problem, EU policies must now also focus on galvanizing search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea as the death toll has already peaked at 2000 this year. It is essential for Libyan coast guards, NGOs, and EU officials to collaboratively work towards mitigating the problem.
Overall, the new policy in Italy will have consequences on the humanitarian emergency of the refugee crisis in the country; but, it is the most sustainable way to address the high magnitude and intensity of the problem at hand.
– Shivani Ekkanath