Europe is walking blindly toward a new migration crisis. In the first quarter of 2023, more than 80,000 people crossed the EU’s borders illegally. Illegal border crossings on the Central Mediterranean route alone have increased by nearly 150 percent compared to the same period in 2022. These figures translate into overcrowded refugee centers, increased controls at the EU’s internal borders and, most importantly, more men, women and children risking their lives trying to reach Europe. The European Union urgently needs to correct its migration policy, paying particular attention to the central Mediterranean, where irregular migrant arrivals continue to increase despite the reported decrease in flows along other routes.
To succeed, a migration policy showing the unity of all member states and a willingness to find shared solutions will need to be built. Our goal will never be achieved as long as we continue to close national borders and argue about who should take in the last migrants landed on our shores, and as long as national self-interest prevails over European solidarity. The Mediterranean is the southern border of the European Union. The many Italian ports struggling to keep up with the growing number of boats carrying migrants are the gateways to Europe.
To regain control of the situation, we need a strategy built on two pillars: strengthened protection of external borders and increased European solidarity with people in need, such as those fleeing wars. By taking in more than 4 million Ukrainian refugees, our local communities have already made an extraordinary show of solidarity.
At the same time, however, citizens are demanding pragmatic solutions to counter the phenomenon of illegal immigration. Being naive on this issue means being irresponsible, and some parties have neglected the security aspect of migration for too long. Socialists and Greens for example, along with left-wing extremists, objected to the allocation of European resources for border protection infrastructure. This is just the latest of many irresponsible decisions. The Greens in the European Parliament have systematically tried to stop all initiatives to create orderly conditions at our external borders, including voting against the EU- Türkiye refugee agreement and against the extension of the powers of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Frontex. The Left in the EU is still using the migrant crisis in a demagogic way, to feed the rhetoric of a Right that does not respect people’s fundamental rights, confusing legal and illegal immigration. By doing so, these parties have weakened Europe and harmed its citizens.
To increase security in the European Union, we need to find more effective measures that prevent criminal organizations and foreign states from exploiting migrants. Continuing to be naive would be a gift to the smugglers of desperate people.
An effective migration policy, based on solidarity and security, has to begin with securing our borders. Member state authorities should decide who enters Europe, not smugglers. Smugglers are part of a multi-billion-dollar illegal business. Only by supporting the enforcement of international and European laws along all our borders can we disrupt these criminals’ business model. Europe must act decisively in the Mediterranean.
The EU should also establish a code of conduct for NGO ships on rescue missions to ensure democratic control and protect our common security. More than 26,000 people have died in the Mediterranean over the past decade, deceived by traffickers selling false hope. To stop this human tragedy, we must work with transit countries and establish registration and reception centers outside Europe as well, serving as landing platforms for patrols and rescue missions. Our border and coast guard must be entrusted with a new patrolling mission in the Mediterranean, in close cooperation with transit countries.
We must prevent so many people from embarking on desperate journeys, instead creating legal routes and humanitarian corridors. The journey to Europe must be safe, legal and dignified. Cooperation with countries on the southern shore of the Mediterranean is key to controlling migration flows. Tunisia has replaced Libya as the most important transit country in North Africa: of the more than 45,000 migrants who have reached Italy this year, more than half have departed from Tunisian ports. Reaching a comprehensive agreement with Tunisia, similar to the one with Türkiye in 2016, is a priority if we want to regain control of the Mediterranean. To solve the migration problem in its complexity, it is not enough to focus only on the last and most visible part of a journey that starts from afar. We must continue to work closely with our partners in sub-Saharan Africa to address the root causes of migration. By investing in areas such as agriculture, energy and technology in these countries, we can create the conditions for people to stop risking their lives crossing the desert and the sea.
Together, we can offer real opportunities for men, women and children in their homelands. We must urgently define a European migration policy, to protect both European citizens and those who need our help. We cannot make the same mistakes as in 2015 and face a new migration crisis, just because we are unable to come together and find common solutions. The European Union must remain united to regain control of the Mediterranean and show European solidarity at its best.