Italy’s hard-right prime minister has claimed that Europe’s future is at stake unless the EU can stop the surge of uncontrolled migration across the Mediterranean.
Giorgia Meloni, leader of the populist Brothers of Italy party, made the declaration alongside the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, on the Italian island of Lampedusa, where thousands of irregular migrants have landed on their journeys to Europe.
‘The future that Europe wants for itself is at stake here,’ Meloni, 46, declared at a press conference on the island.
‘The future of Europe depends on its ability to tackle epoch-making challenges of our time and the challenge of illegal immigration is for sure one of them.
She said that Italy could not shoulder the full weight of responsibility for fighting irregular migration: ‘We all stake our future on this issue. At the very least we need an EU naval mission against smugglers.’
Italian PM Giorgia Meloni (pictured) said that Europe’s future was at stake
She spoke on the Italian island of Lampedusa, where the migrant population far outweighs the local Italian population
‘If we don’t work seriously all together to fight the illegal departures, the numbers of this will not only overwhelm the border countries, but all of the others,’ she warned.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen stood side-by-side with Italy’s first female prime minister, and revealed her ten-point immigration support plan to support the island of around 7,000 residents, telling them: ‘You can count on the European Union.’
The EU has pledged to move the 8,500 or so migrants that currently live on the island to other parts of the bloc.
It will also step up border surveillance by beefing up Frontex, the EU’s border agency, with more equipment.
von der Leyen also vowed to increase migrants’ access to legal channels, telling the press conference: ‘The better we are with legal migration the stricter we can be with irregular migration’. She added: ‘Irregular migration is a European challenge and it needs a European answer. We will decide who comes to the EU and under what circumstance and not the smugglers and traffickers.’
New EU figures have revealed that asylum claim levels are almost the same as 2015, when the EU underwent a major migrant crisis
Ursula von der Leyen (pictured) revealed her ten-point pledge to help Lampedusa
This is the second time Meloni and von der Leyen have worked together publicly on immigration issues
The major EU pledge comes just three months after both von der Leyen and Meloni travelled to Tunisia to seek its cooperation in the fight against irregular migration across the Mediterranean.
Meloni is looking to get the EU to accelerate a migration deal with Tunisia worth €785 million (£676 million) that would help the country return migrants to their countries of origin and beef up its coastguard with new and better equipment.
The EU’s latest pledge also comes days after France stepped up its border security and Germany had suspended a voluntary programme for the reallocation of migrants, complaining that Italy was not respecting the EU’s rules on accepting returned migrants.
The German government later reinstated the programme after von der Leyen and European Council president Charles Michel intervened.
European sentiment towards migrants has soured as data from Frontex revealed that the EU has faced a 96% increase in irregular crossings via the central Mediterranean route to Italy this year.
Nearly 128,000 migrants have arrived in the EU via Italian soil this year so far, twice as many as last year.
Italy currently bears the brunt of the migration crisis. Half of all irregular border crossings into the EU picked up by Frontex were in Italy.
The pair toured the island and spoke to locals about their experience with the current migration crisis
Thousands of migrants are currently living on Lampedusa
Italy has seen nearly 128,000 migrants arrive on its shores this year alone
This month, EU officials said they expected more than a million asylum seekers would register claims this year alone.
In 2015, 1.2 million asylum claims were lodged in the EU, which plunged the continent into crisis as more and more EU citizens were driven to hardline anti-immigration parties.
The 2015 migrant crisis also left hundreds of migrants dead as EU states were unable to cope with the massive influx of people, with many bodies being found frozen in refrigerated vans, in the wrecks of capsized boats, and washed up on beaches.
That September, a shocking image of the body of Alyan Kurdi, a two-year-old Syrian refugee, washed up on a Turkish beach after a failed attempt to get to Greece brought a harsh spotlight on EU countries for not doing enough to prevent migrant deaths.
Despite this scrutiny, two weeks after the photo of Alyan was taken, Hungary put up a hard border with its neighbours Serbia and Croatia, with the aim of increasing border security and preventing irregular migrants from getting in.