Wednesday, September 21, 2016


As the UN focuses on migration this week, first at Monday's Summit on Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants and then during the General Debate of the 71st Session, one might have hoped for some collective action to offer a little hope to desperate people but I have to say, if I were a migrant seeking safety now, I would be more than disappointed.

Yesterday, while politicians measured their words and refugees continued to risk their lives on the high seas or to languish in camps, UNHCR announced that, as of that day, the number of migrants arriving on European shores since the beginning of 2016 had reached 300,000.  This is lower than the number of arrivals in the same period last year but more than in 2014.  Italy has seen virtually the same number of arrivals this year as last but more migrants are trying to stay in the country.

This is exactly what the Prime Minister of my own country wishes to see, for Mrs May made it quite clear, both in a speech on Monday and in her address to the General Assembly yesterday, that she believes that migrants should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach, which is, of course, EU law under the Dublin Regulation.  But if that country is already saving thousands of lives in the Mediterranean and is being stretched to its limits to deal with the number of arrivals [and is doing so humanely]? What then, Mrs May? Our new Prime Minister seems to have no answer.  When she said yesterday that the UK was "committed to helping countries adapt to refugees' needs", I did not get the impression that she meant Italy and Greece, which bear the main burden of arrivals, but receiving countries bordering Syria. 

Few people would disagree with Mrs May's  affirmation that countries have the right to control their own borders or with what seems a genuine commitment to eradicating people trafficking and one of its consequences, which she rightly calls "modern slavery".  However, her strategy for doing so takes for granted that we are dealing with non-chaotic countries of departure, which we are not. I have yet to hear Mrs May or any other top-ranking politician praise Italy for its work in bringing people traffickers to justice. [A total of 148 alleged people traffickers have been arrested in the Province of Ragusa alone in 2016.]

The British Premier gave contradictory messages, on the one hand saying that there is nothing wrong with moving to seek a better life but on the other hand stating that governments need to distinguish between economic migrants and refugees more clearly and find "a better way of dealing with economic migration".  She did not say how they would do this and her speech was hardly reassuring, even to migrants-by-choice like myself, for strangely, in the middle of her address to the GA, came this:

"We must all commit to the return of our own nationals when they have no right to remain elsewhere."

This was surely a Brexit reference and if it was, it was inappropriate.  If this one sentence can make a legal migrant-by-choice uneasy, what impact would her other words have on someone desperately hoping to be granted asylum?

Meanwhile Mr Renzi, also on Monday, received the Global Citizen Award of the Atlantic Council from Mr Kerry and said,

"Italy saves lives in the Mediterranean becaue we can afford to lose some votes but we cannot afford to lose our humanity."

He also announced that Italy's humanitarian aid budget is to be increased by 30% and, with refreshing honesty, told journalists [outside the meeting] that there is no political will to solve the refugee crisis because the leaders of France and Germany have elections coming up and he himself could be swept away by the outcome of Italy's imminent referendum on constitutional reform. Nailed it, Mr Renzi!  

While the  politicians were arriving comfortably in their armoured cars, migrants were continuing to attempt the perilous Mediterranean journey in woefully overcrowded dinghies or even less seaworthy vessels. Here are just a few of the migration developments which have occurred while our politicians have been preparing or giving their speeches at the UN:

La Repubblica reported today that 128,479 migrants were saved in the Sicilian Channel between 1st January and 15th September and 958 of the boats which had been carrying them had come from Libya.  

At the weekend a 15-year-old became the youngest refugee to be killed trying to enter the UK illegally from Calais and on 6th September the body of a young male migrant who had entered France from Ventimiglia [where the French have closed the border] was found under a flyover on the French side.  No one knows what happened. 

This afternoon a  migrant boat sank off Rosetta in Egypt and so far 42 people are reported to have died. The Egyptian authorites have saved 155 people but no one knows how many were on board.

Need I go on?

There are, however, three positive outcomes from the UN sessions:  one is the summit held by President Obama at the UN yesterday, at which significant promises were made; another is that the International Organisation for Migration [IOM]  became, on Monday, formally linked to the UN as a "related organisation." This is important because it gives the UN a migration mandate. The third development is a promise to set in motion a Global Compact on safe migration upholding human rights. Let us hope that this is implemented soon.  Are we to see action or was it all much ado to bring about nothing?

You can read the full text of British Prime Minister Theresa May's address to the General Assembly of the UN here.

You can read the text of President Obama's speech at the 20th September Summit here.

Update: 22.9.16 at 14.41:

The latest estimate regarding the migrant boat which sank off Rosetta yesterday is that up to 600 people may have been on board. 163 migrants have now been rescued and 43 bodies have been recovered. The boat is now known to have been heading for Italy.


Saucy Siciliana said...

Fabulous post Pat, so detailed, and so clear! I have to admit I didn't know the latest information you posted so I was very glad to read it.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

It's very nice of you to say so, Saucy Siciliana. I appreciate it.


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