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Europe

EU migrant crisis not likely to be resolved soon, says activist

media A migrant is taken away by Italian police in Ventimiglia on 16 juin 2015. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

European Union interior ministers are meeting today in Luxembourg to discuss European Commission proposals for the sharing of asylum-seekers across the 28 member states.But an activist warns "the expectations are not high in terms of concrete answers”.

A surging numbers of migrants and refugees - mostly from Syria and Libya - have been risking their lives on makeshift boats to reach safety in Europe from the beginning of the year.

So far, more than 100,000 people have made the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to Europe this year, and some 1,800 have drowned trying.

Greece and Italy, geographically close to the countries of origin of the migrants, are receiving the most people and because of the way the EU legislation works, they have to take care of the asylum seekers.

In Italy, the situation is particularly tense: more than 220,000 people have landed at its southern ports since the start of 2014.

“There are lights and shadows” told Christopher Hein, the head of the Italian Council for Refugees, RFI. “We need to aknowledge that the Italian authorities have, over the last two years, made a lot of efforts to increase the number of reception places for asylum seekers.”

“But a lot of things are just on paper and not put in practice” he adds. The reception conditions in many centers, particularly those which were created on an ad-hoc basis, are absolutely sub-standard.”

Italy voiced its anger on Monday, after France refused entry to hundreds of migrants – most of them from English speaking Africa - living in the border town of Ventimiglia.

The situation was described as a punch in the face for Europe by the Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano.

“Europe has to act like Europe because it is the right to free movement and the common asylum policy that are at stake," Alfano told after arriving for the meeting in Luxembourg.

"The principle of responsibility and solidarity are at stake” he added. “We are working to avoid Europe from becoming politically bankrupt and this issue of immigration is one on which Europe either wins or loses.”

Despite Italy’s cries for help, experts and activists are not expecting the crisis to be resolved any time soon.

“As far as we understand, the ministers are going to have a further exchange on the general direction taken by the European agenda on migration that the commission has proposed mid-may” says Kris Pollet, a Policy Officer at the European Center for Refugees and Exiles.

"Whereas the commission had hoped to make very quick progress on the proposal, it now looks like this is not going to happen and that the discussion will be postponed until after the summer” he concludes. “That’s very unfortunate because the needs in Italy and Greece are very high”.

Back in May, the European Union proposed a quota system to handle the huge number of arrivals.

Under the so called Dublin Agreements, the country of arrival has to take care of the asylum process.

With the new scheme, migrants would be dispatched across European member states.

The proposal was met by criticism from countries such as France, the UK and Hungary.

“There’s a lot of pressure from actors within those societies, and of course all the discussion about migration and asylum is a very politically sensitive one” Kris Pollet explains. “Governments are increasingly under pressure from political parties and groups that are opposing migration and are feeding xenophobic and even racist sentiments towards migrants. There is a lack of leadership on this issue.”

The Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, told the Italian media on Monday that he would go with Plan B if Europe failed to do anything.

It's not exactly clear, what the plan B would consist of, but the Italian press reported that Rome could start issuing newly arrived migrants with temporary visas giving them the right to travel throughout most of Europe.

“One of these proposals is very positive: the creation of a so-called European refugee status. In other words, the recognition of an asylum decision that would be valid for all EU member states” says Christopher Hein.

“That means a person recognized as refugee in Italy, if he or she wants to, could establish himself and work in France, Germany, the Netherlands… this would really be an European answer and would very much lower the pressure, for example at the Franco-Italian border.”

Pollet and Hein share one common opinion: the fact that the EU could do much more.

And even the United Nations agree with this.

UN rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein on Monday said the bloc could easily take in one million refugees.

A number that, he says, would represent barely 0,2 percent of the EU population.

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