As the leaders of the EU countries on 27-29 June put their names to their “universal accord” on immigration policy, news arrived of another horrific tragedy off the coast of Libya.
A hundred men, women, and children drowned as their rubber boat exploded and they drifted helplessly in waters where NGO rescue ships are now banned by Marco Minniti, Italy’s Minister of the Interior, not in the current right-wing Italian government, but in the previous centre-left one.
Their deaths bring the total in the last months to their highest rate for a long time, despite a significant drop in the numbers attempting to escape.
That the assembled dignitaries couldn’t even be bothered to utter their usual platitudes of pious sympathy underlined that the principal purpose of their meeting was for each participant to find a way of saving face before her or his nation’s rising tide of populist racism.
The nub of the solution amounted to little more than each being able to reassure public opinion at home that it will be their neighbour, not their own country, which will open doors to migrants.
The most nauseating spectacle in this grotesquerie was offered by the “government of change” in Italy. Its Minister of the Interior, Matteo Salvini, has made the battle-cry “Italy for Italians” the launchpad of his campaign to “rid the country of immigrants, Roma, Sinti” and the European Union, so he says, of its bureaucrats and elites.
He and his government leader Giuseppe Conte got little further than being permitted to rhetorically claim one victory after another. Under the weasel words of the EU text, none of the other countries is under any further obligation in matters of migrant reception or redistribution. But Germany, the butt of Salvini’s anti-Europe rant, has reserved the right to send back to Italy those originally disembarking there.
French president Macron, having saved the Dublin Treaty, has put the ball firmly back in Salvini’s court.
The EU meeting, behind a curtain of hypocrisy, mystification, and contradictions, agreed on a militarisation of the EU’s external frontiers, with 10,000 more armed police. Turkey’s tyrant leader was rewarded with another €3 billion to copperfasten the Balkans’ maritime frontiers. Another €500 million was allocated to cement Africa’s sub-Saharan borders, while plans underway for detention centres in Africa will probably come with additional bribes.
The Libyan coastguard, furnished anew by Salvini with even more sophisticated motor boats are accorded full power in the Mediterranean, and the NGO ships are denied rights.
As Gino Strada, founder of the NGO “Emergency”, summed up this “criminal Pact”, nothing has changed except for the worse.