Five European Union nations, whose leaders fear that the threat of hunger could lead to an increase in the numbers of refugees from impoverished African countries, are calling for an end to the bloc’s “voluntary” solidarity with migrants with demands for concrete measures instead.
The interior ministers from Italy, Cyprus, Greece, Malta and Spain wrapped up two days of talks in Venice amid worries that the blockade of Ukrainian grain exports due to Russia’s invasion could see huge numbers of refugees from Africa flooding southern Europe.
Cypriot Interior Minister Nicos Nouris told reporters that a robust, common EU policy is needed on migration.
“Solidarity is not a slogan, nor can it be void of substance,” Nouris said.
Italian Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese pressed for more repatriation agreements with countries whose people were seeking a better life in Europe.
Italy has an effective repatriation agreement with Tunisia, but not with most other countries in Africa or in Asia whose citizens take to smugglers’ boats to try to reach southern European shores.
As a result, even though their asylum applications fail, many migrants remain in Italy, often taking illegal jobs or resorting to fending off starvation by begging.
Greece’s Interior Minister expressed support for more legal paths for migration.
“We cannot let smugglers decide who comes to live in Europe,” minister Notis Mitarachi told reporters.
Past EU policies in which member countries could offer to receive some of the hundreds of thousands of migrants landing in Italy, Greece and other southern shores proved grossly inadequate, as many of the bloc’s countries did not step forward.
Others, even when they did pledge to receive modest numbers of some of the hundreds of thousands of migrants rescued from smugglers’ unseaworthy boats, did not follow through.
Also, EU states such as Hungary have openly refused to take in non-European migrants amid allegations of illegal pushbacks and human rights abuses along the migration path.
The meeting did not address the millions of Ukrainian refugees who recently came to northern EU nations like Poland, Hungary and Romania.