Five EU Countries, specifically Germany, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, and Portugal, have offered refuge for 104 migrants presently being held in Italy following former Italian Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini’s attempted ban of their presence.
Italian authorities swiftly confiscated the Eleonore rescue ship, bearing the 104 immigrants and operated by the German charity Mission Lifeline, after it was forced to land on September 2nd due to dangerous weather conditions. The Eleonore had remained afloat for eight days off the coast of Italy, unable to legally disembark given Salvini’s decree; Salvini’s staunch opposition to illegal immigration is a trademark of his right-leaning Lega Nord (Northern League) party. With the ship’s journey artificially extended, conditions on the ship became bleak. The five aforementioned EU countries assuaged any concerns regarding the new migrants, who will shortly have legal shelter within one of the welcoming countries. The EU’s response to migration is currently determined by the Dublin Rule, which dictates that the first country an asylum seeker enters must process their application for asylum.
Salvini’s defence of his actions largely invoked the usual rhetoric of sovereignty, rule of law, and self-defence that often surrounds anti-immigration or anti-refugee positions: “Laws and borders will be respected. If someone thinks he can ignore them without consequences, he is making a big mistake … I am doing and will do everything to defend Italy.” Regardless of what one makes of such language, the decision to violate Italian law was, in this case, required by circumstance. The ship’s captain, Claus Peter-Reisch, declared the ship’s status an emergency and reportedly landed in the interests of protecting the many migrants on board.
Italy’s recent ban against migrant ships propagated by Salvini is not conducive to justice for those seeking a state in which to reside. Multiple other aid ships, the Mare Jonio and the Alan Kurdi have also been banned despite carrying dozens of refugees. The Eleonore is only part of a larger trend. Even assuming a nation does possess the right to control entry into its borders, a nation cannot rightfully separate itself from the perils of those that face statelessness or death as a result of that order. It would have to be demonstrated that migrants pose a truly palpable threat to exclude them, and recourse to vague concepts such as “western civilization” will offer no concrete principle by which to do so. By contrast, the offers of refuge by the other EU countries were fair and moral, and the EU should reconsider the Dublin principle dictating that migrants must take asylum in the first country they enter. There is no cause for migrants to have to inhabit the first country they encounter, as this places an arbitrary onus on countries geographically close to those that send migrants. This especially holds if a system such as the EU is in place to co-ordinate national responses and partition out responsibilities between nations. Germany, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, and Portugal all deserve commendation for their willingness to take in these migrants.
Italy has since changed out its leader and its government, the Five Star Movement having combined with the Democratic Party in a move that displaces Salvini from authority. Salvini’s position was tenuous since his attempt to collapse the Italian status quo by pulling the League out of the Prime Minister Giuseppi Conte’s coalition. His successor, Luciana Lamorgese, ironically specializes in political responses to migrancy, having formerly operated Italian centers for taking in refugees. Meanwhile, the EU countries involved have agreed to talks in Autumn to hash out EU policy towards accommodating migrants.
This incident should serve to help us reconsider what obligations, if any, we have towards migrants and refugees, especially ones that find themselves in peril or faced with absolute statelessness. Hopefully, Lamorgese will prove to be a moral influence on Italian immigration policy moving forward. Likewise, we should keep watch on how the EU opts to structure its incorporation of refugees and its implementation or elimination of the Dublin Rule. People precede the whims of states, and we would do well to favour policies that place the former before the latter.
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