The Malta Independent 8 August 2020, Saturday

TMID Editorial: Migration Summit - ‘Voluntary’ won’t work

Wednesday, 25 September 2019, 10:18 Last update: about 12 months ago

The Interior Ministers of four countries including Malta, as well as the European Commissioner for Migration and the Finnish Prime Minister, whose country currently holds the EU Presidency, announced Monday that an agreement had been reached on a set of “predictable and structural” arrangements for the disembarkation and relocation of migrants.

The Malta summit was held in the wake of the latest migrant standoffs, which have left hundreds of migrants stranded on rescue boats for days on end while Member States bickered as to who was responsible for them and who should take them in.

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This is a situation that we have witnessed over and over again, and which has always been solved by the same small group of countries. The absence of EU coast guard and rescue missions have left countries like Malta and Italy in a difficult situation where their forces save lives at sea but then find little to no help in redistributing the people snatched from the jaws of death.

In view of this situation, agreements have been reached on an ad-hoc basis, with no proper European structure or solidarity shown.

The participating ministers on Monday emphasised their optimism that this is a step forward in reaching an agreement which will be more permanent and predictable than the current way of dealing with migrant rescues on a case by case basis.

But they also said that the agreement relies on the widespread participation of countries within the European Union.

Commissioner Avramopoulos said it is the responsibility of all countries to come together and address the migratory situation and alleviate the burden being faced by countries such as Italy and Malta in the Mediterranean.

Avramopoulos said he was “optimistic” about the outcome of the meeting. Pardon us for not being as optimistic as he is, but we believe that getting all EU countries to show solidarity and share the burden is wishful thinking.

We say this, of course, because past experience shows that European solidarity, at least when it comes to migration, is an idealistic concept that is very rarely put into practice.

The fact that the meeting was attended only by Malta, Italy, France and Germany – two countries that are on the frontline of migration in the Mediterranean, and two others who often offer to take in rescued migrants – is, in itself a sign of ‘I’m alright, Jack’ by most Member States.

While ‘clear’ rules are being put in place for the for the procedures for the acceptance of migrants and refugees and clear time limits for distributing refugees, it seems that this agreement will still be at the mercy of many EU states, most of whom will likely look the other way.

In simple words, it will not work unless the entire EU steps up to the plate and all countries pitch in which, and, going by recent events, this is not likely to happen.

So, despite all the talk, we might remain in a situation where Malta, Italy and rescue NGOs keep saving lives at sea but get little help when it comes to relocating refugees. We truly hope that this will not be the case and that Europe finally starts practicing the solidarity that politicians so often preach about.  

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