Suffering from what it sees as lack of actual action to support it in its migrant burden, Italy has proposed issuing emergency visas to Europe to ease the strain.
Dubbed the “nuclear option.” It calls for emergency visas for migrants rescued at sea.
Italians have faced the flow of asylum-seekers with two distinct reactions — putting out the welcome mat, or erecting barricades, but the country’s leaders are seeking to puncture what they see as Europe’s posture of offering moral support instead of concrete action.
Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano has denied reports that the migrant numbers could reach 200,000, but other Italian officials have acknowledged the plan is under consideration, if only to gain negotiating leverage.
The threat of the visas, which would allow free movement in the Schengen area, is enough to cause concern among Italy’s neighbors. Austria’s foreign minister on Monday vowed to protect the border if adopted.
Last week, Belgium’s migration minister said that Brussels should withdraw its frigate from an EU mission to break up human trafficking networks near Libya because the presence of such vessels encouraged migrants to make the perilous journey across the central Mediterranean.
Belgium has sent a frigate to take part in an EU operation to map and disrupt networks of people smugglers off the Libyan coast who send migrants toward Italy, often on ramshackle dinghies which are barely seaworthy.
While saving the migrants is not the core task of the military vessels that are part of the mission, they often have to do so.
“I personally think this operation should not be repeated because it is pure lunacy. There is no logic to it,” migration minister Theo Francken told broadcaster VTM.
“It is not about whether we should save them or not. We should. But this creates an effect of drawing in migrants with more dead people as a result. It is a shame on Europe,” Francken, who has a record of criticizing NGOs over their behavior in the Mediterranean, added.
A spokeswoman for the Belgian defense ministry said the country would continue to be part of the mission only if the Libyan government allowed EU vessels inside its waters, as foreseen in phase two of the EU operation.
In the first six months of 2017, some 85,000 people arrived on Italy’s southern shores, a fifth more than in the same period last year, EU border agency Frontex said earlier this month.
Nationals of Nigeria, Bangladesh and Ivory Coast, which have a low likelihood of being recognized as asylum seekers in Europe, represented the highest number of arrivals, Frontex added.