There have been at least 2,000 drownings already this year. This is a moment for the revived EU to show some solidarity
High summer is migrant season in the Mediterranean. In rising numbers, men, women and children set off in the flimsiest of craft for Italy. So far this year, according to the International Organization for Migration, at least 2,000 people have drowned in the attempt. This is made all the worse by the equivocation and even the hostility of EU states which make little show of solidarity; today Austria announced it was ready to send troops and tanks to stop migrants crossing the border from Italy. The Mediterranean is already the world’s worst maritime cemetery. Italy, which finds itself on the receiving end of this migration, urgently needs more European support than is currently on offer. Lest anyone doubt it, this applies to the UK government too: last year, only 13,000 asylum claims were granted.
The numbers are not as staggering as they were, but this year’s migration crisis is no less tragic and no less diplomatically fraught. The number entering Europe by sea so far is 100,000, half last year’s number for the same period. Four-fifths of them arrived in Italy. Migrant centres are overwhelmed. The Italian government says the situation is “unbearable”. Last week it threatened to close its ports to ships used by NGOs to rescue migrants. It wants other coastline states – Spain and France – to offer points of arrival. A flurry of EU meetings – with another one due on Thursday in Tallinn – has so far produced little concrete help, while a proposed EU “code of conduct” for NGOs risks limiting their action. NGOs are furious that their humanitarian work has been described as creating a “pull factor”: they say that is finger-pointing rather than tackling the real issues.