June 2018: the NGO ship Aquarius spent 10 days at sea before been allowed to disembark more than 600 migrants in Spain. One year on: same waters...another NGO ship stranded. EU ports are still closed.
NGOs in the Mediterranean today might face criminal charges from EU governments. Aurélie Ponthieu from Doctors without Borders has slammed what they say is the EU failure in solving the migration issue - as NGOs become scapegoats.
"The EU anti-smuggling operation didn't show the results that they were looking for. It didn't decrease the number of people trying to cross the sea so they had to find another person to blame and obviously the NGOs are now bearing the burden of that issue", she says.
Last June EU governments announced they wanted to reform the system of quotas to relocate asylum seekers among member states.
They also planned to create hotspots outside Europe to pre-screen their asylum requests. Another solution was to open reception centers in European countries to provide relief to the Southern countries facing the largest influx.
There was no agreement on those reforms.
The result? European countries argued every time another boat arrived in Europe.
Sergio Carrera, Professor at the Migration Policy Centre (MPC) at the European University Institute and Senior Research Fellow at CEPS in Brussels, explains that the European Commission was caught in the middle.
“We are going actually backsliding. We are going backward in European cooperation. We are allowing unequal solidarity in the EU. What we need to aim to is equal solidarity, all member states involved and committed to a responsibility, which at the end of the day belongs to all Schengen members”.
Since June 2018, more than one thousand people died in the Mediterranean. Despite the number of migrants arriving in Europe going down, in the last European elections migration was an issue that widened the support for nationalist parties in countries such as Italy. Mara Bizzotto, MEP for the League party, says the current asylum system needs to be changed.
“We cannot afford to receive 700,000 illegal immigrants who have to be distributed among the other member states because it does not work, because other European countries say no”.
EU leaders are gathering in Brussels this week. Migration is on the agenda, as well as EU top jobs. The latter might be the most important. Depending on which candidates take over the institutions, the EU might propose new solutions to the migration dilemma.