Italy takes formal EU migrant step, ports cd be blocked (7)

Situation now 'at the limit', straining political, social life

(ANSA) - Rome, June 28 - Italy took a formal step to protest the migrant emergency with Brussels Wednesday and said that foreign ships may be stopped from docking in Italian ports unless the situation improves.
    With over 12,000 migrants landing in the last 48 hours, Rome said the situation, with its impact on social and political life, was "unsustainable" and "at the limit".
    Italy is taking a formal step with the European Commission in relation to the large numbers of asylum seekers landing on its shores, ANSA sources said. Over 10,000 asylum seekers arrived in Italy from Saturday to Tuesday and some 12,000 have arrived in the last 48 hours. The government gave its ambassador to the EU, Maurizio Massari, a mandate to formally raise the issue with European Migration and Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, the sources said.
    Massari went on to tell Avramopoulos that the situation regarding asylum seekers landing in Italy was at the limit, diplomatic sources said. Massari said the situation was having an impact on the country's social and political life and, as a result, it would be difficult to allow new arrivals, the sources said.
    Avramopoulos, who said the EC was ready to "substantially" boost resources to Italy, went on to tell ANSA that "Italy is right in saying that the (migrant) situation on the central Mediterranean route is unsustainable".
    He said he had met with Italy's EU envoy to "see how to improve the support to the country". Avramopoulos said "we have the obligation to save lives" but "we cannot leave a handful of countries to face this." He said the situation would be discussed at an informal EU interior ministers' meeting next week in Tallin.
    Avramopoulos also said States should now bolster their work on the migrant front with Libya and should show more solidarity with Italy.
    European Commission spokesperson Natasha Beraud told ANSA "beyond the EU operations, which are not in question, the question of the (migrant) landings is regulated by international law." She said the EC "however, deems opportune that any change in policies must first be discussed and communicated in the proper way, so as to give the NGOs the chance to prepare". She said Brussels "will help to inform the discussion and is ready to give indications for the landings".
    Rome's message to the Commission, sources said, is that Italy is facing a serious situation and Europe cannot look the other way. It is unsustainable, Italian diplomatic sources said, that all rescue ships should land in Italy. If the situation does not change, they said, Italy may be forced to deny permission to dock to non-Italian-flagged ships or ones that are not part of European missions.
    The Italian government is in fact mulling whether to deny docking privileges in Italian ports to ships rescuing migrants off Libya that are flying non-Italian flags, government sources said. They reiterated it was now "unsustainable" that all the vessels operating in the Mediterranean should bring rescued asylum seekers to Italy.
    Italy, the sources said, will continue to save human lives at sea as it has always done over recent years, but it is no longer sustainable that the whole burden of migrant reception should fall on Italy. Rescues and reception cannot be separated and therefore the contribution of the EU must not be limited to sea rescues, the sources said. A possible block on Italian ports would concern ships operated by non-governmental organisations operating in the central Mediterranean, sources indicated.
    But it would not for the moment affect naval units inserted in the mission of Frontex, the EU border control agency, and in EUNAVFOR MED, the operation that is tasked with combatting human traffickers in the Sicilian Channel and in which 25 European nations are taking part, the sources said.
    Ex-premier and ruling centre-left Democratic Party (PD) leader Matteo Renzi backs the new hard line on migrants and the EU taken by Premier Paolo Gentiloni and Interior Minister Marco Minniti, PD sources said. The sources welcomed the formal diplomatic step on migrants taken by the government with the European Commission, noting that Renzi on Tuesday himself called the situation "unsustainable". They also pointed out that the PD leader's positions on Italy getting more help in coping with the migrant emergency were "well-known".
    In Ottawa, President Sergio Mattarella said "if the phenomenon of (migrant) flows continued with these numbers the situation would become unmanageable even for a great and open country likes ours". Speaking alongside Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Mattarella said it was "an epochal phenomenon that cannot be cancelled by putting up walls but must be governed with seriousness".
    Mattarella added that migratory phenomena "must be governed while at the same time ensuring the security of citizens".
    European countries must "stop turning the other way" on the migrant emergency "because that is no longer sustainable," Premier Gentiloni said. "In these hours," he said, "we are grappling with the difficult management of migratory flows. "We can speak about solutions and concerns but I want to recall that it is a whole country that is mobilising to manage this emergency, to govern the flows, to combat traffickers". He said "it isn't to blow on the embers but to ask Europe, and some European countries, to stop turning away".
    European Parliament President Antonio Tajani told ANSA on the phone that "a cry of alarm has come from Italy (on migrants), an SOS, not a request for money: we can't leave it on its own". He said "I have spoken with (European Commission President Jean-Claude) Juncker, a positive talk in which he reiterated that the EU cannot turn its back on Italy." Tajani added: "After the closure of the Balkan Route, it is indispensable to also close the central Mediterranean one, we can't have any more delays in solving the problem".
    Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said that "people saved at sea should be moved to the nearest landing port in which their necessities and vulnerabilities can find a swift response". Commenting on the idea of closing Italian ports to foreign migrant rescue ships, MSF recalled that it has been calling for more support from the EU for some time for rescue ops, in which "all the States should take part".
    The NGO said "you have to distinguish between lifesaving rescue operations at sea and subsequent reception activities: on the former, our main concern remains to provide an adequate humanitarian response to those who need to be saved". As for the possibility of denying landing in Italian ports to ships saving migrants off Libya flying a different flag from the Italian one, MSF said: "We still don't have detailed information on this proposal from the Italian government to the European Commission. "We learned of it via the media. "MSF has been asking the European Union for three years for stronger support for search and rescue (SAR) operations and the creation of an SAR system which States can participate in".
   

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