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Interview by Minister Alfano on Bild – “Europe has stood us up”

“Europe has stood us up”

The Italian Foreign Minister on Bild

by Paul Ronzheimer


Bild: Mister Minister, is the situation on the Mediterranean route comparable to the migration crisis in 2015?  

Angelino Alfano: The number of migrants who have come to Italy this year has reached a dimension that is very difficult for us to bear. By the end of this year, the number could peak at more than 200,000. And other hundreds of thousands of people are waiting in Libya to take the dangerous crossing that often ends with death.

However, there is a big difference with 2015: people reach Italy from Libya on board of boats and can no longer walk from Greece to Germany, as they could two years ago. Therefore, our rescue and relief operations are much more difficult and costly. Moreover, we now fingerprint 100% of the migrants. This too is another difference.

Bild: So, do you think that the German Government was wrong in how it behaved in 2015?

Alfano: No, this is not what I mean. Chancellor Angela Merkel was on the right side of the story in 2015, she showed authentic leadership, with strength and courage. However, the situation on the Central Mediterranean route is completely different now because along with the refugees, there are many economic migrants crossing over.

Bild: Do you feed abandoned by Europe?

Alfano: Very clearly Yes! The so-called Relocation Programme is not working at all. This means that refugees remain in Italy. In addition, there is no common European migration policy that can take charge of the arrivals from Africa. Italy is doing its share but we cannot cope with this burden alone. We are equally in urgent need of enhancing joint efforts to change the situation in Libya, so as to be able to combat human trafficking and manage migration flows.

Bild: The Austrian Defence Minister has already threatened to send soldiers to the Brenner border pass.

Alfano: This is pure election campaigning, which we do not take seriously. A year ago, they had already spoken of a wall in Austria. But the truth is: There is no problem at all. Our borders are clearly sealed. It is impossible for migrants to travel to other countries. We’re taking care of that.

Bild: What are you planning to do so that less refugees and migrants reach Italy?

Alfano: The only possible solution is in Libya. We want to create humanitarian facilities for refugees there. To this end, we must finally achieve the political unity of the Country and, with it, re-establish stability. Until this is achieved, we are working on an Agreement on Refugees with all the relevant players and we have already sent a clear message with the re-opening of our Embassy in Tripoli.

Bild: But the situation in Libya is getting worse instead of getting better. There are many violent militias in control of the human trafficking business.

Alfano: It’s true and this is precisely the reason why our commitment is utmost. It is the reason why Italy is providing means, funding and training to the Coast Guard, which must be supported and bolstered. The United Nations must act more assertively to support the Tripoli Government.

Bild: Do you think there will ultimately be the need for a mission by the Blue Helmets?

Alfano: Now what we must do is give the new Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General time to make proposals.

Bild: The rescue missions by many humanitarian Organisations in the Mediterranean are a current topic of debate: do you think that these missions actually contributed to increasing the number of refugees?

Alfano: The Prosecutors’ Offices are currently verifying the allegations; I don’t want to interfere. Generally speaking the following is true: in Italy, we have always tried to find a balance between rules and solidarity. We need firm action but, at the same time, humanity. We need security but we cannot forget human rights. I think we should finally work on the possibility of facilitating legal migration to Europe. It should not be up to human traffickers to decide who can and who cannot reach the European Union.