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Von der Leyen aligns with Italy’s tough approach on migration

Von der Leyen aligns with Italy’s tough approach on migration

by host

Europe seems to be backing the Italian government’s hard-line stance on migration. 

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Sunday promised “a coordinated response” from Brussels to the problem of immigration, vowing to improve anti-trafficking forces, increase air surveillance and consider a possible new European naval mission in the Mediterranean Sea.

Following a surge in arrivals by boat on the Italian coast last week, von der Leyen visited the Italian island of Lampedusa on Sunday, where thousands of migrants are stranded in difficult conditions. She was accompanied by Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

In response to the crisis, members of the Italian government have called for an EU naval mission to prevent boats leaving north Africa. They have also proposed measures to increase repatriations, and a doubling of the number of detention centers. 

In a video message on Friday, Meloni warned people not to undertake the Mediterranean crossing because of the danger. Those found to be illegal will be “detained and repatriated,” she said.

Fighting irregular migration “should not be considered” Italy’s task alone, “but the responsibility of Europe to itself,” Meloni said on Lampedusa on Sunday. “The future of Europe depends on its ability to face great challenges,” the Italian leader added.

Von der Leyen outlined a ten-point plan to address the migrant challenges. Speaking during her visit to the island, she promised “a European solution to a European challenge,” telling islanders: “You can count on the European Union.”

The EU plan includes the immediate help of the bloc’s asylum agency with the handling of migrants, to identify who has the right to asylum. The plan also offers the support of EU border agency Frontex in the speedy return of migrants refused asylum. “Those who do not have the right cannot remain,” von der Leyen said.

She highlighted the need to fight trafficking, working more closely with origin countries such as Tunisia, which would receive EU funding.

It is the second time that von der Leyen has suggested that she stands side-by-side with Meloni on immigration. Earlier this summer, the Commission chief and Meloni traveled to Tunisia to seek cooperation from Tunisia on stopping irregular migration across the Mediterranean.

Meloni is expected to formally propose the naval mission to other EU leaders at the next European Council.

Earlier this week, France had stepped up border security and Germany had suspended a voluntary program fore the reallocation of migrants, complaining that Italy was not respecting EU rules on accepting returned migrants.

But following the intervention of von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel, the German government reinstated the scheme. And after a call between Meloni and French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday, Paris promised “shared action.” 

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