When the European Commission president arrived on the island of Lampedusa in Italy on September 17, it was an opportunity to reset Europe’s broken approach to migration. Instead, we got a 10-point plan of ineffective and abusive policies, with some wishful thinking.
European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen presented the plan after a three-hour visit on the island, where thousands of people had arrived on more than one hundred boats over the previous days. At one point, there were 7,000 migrants and asylum seekers, overwhelming Lampedusa’s inadequate reception facility. Transfers to the mainland eased the overcrowding, but not before Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni exploited the human drama for political purposes.
The Commission’s plan includes staples of the EU’s failed approach: throwing money at countries like Tunisia and Libya to prevent departures, cracking down on smuggling networks, increased surveillance, accelerated asylum procedures to swiftly deny protection and send people away, and futile information campaigns to discourage people from getting on unsafe boats. None of these approaches have stopped people attempting the dangerous journey or addressed the root causes of displacement and migration. Some have instead increased the danger.
The plan contains a pledge to “continue working to offer alternatives such as humanitarian admission and legal pathways” but without concrete commitments, the outcome will be more of the same.
The plan also mentions exploring “options to expand naval missions in the Mediterranean,” which is not about ensuring rescue at sea but is instead an alarming reference to Meloni’s proposal for a “naval blockade.” This is coupled with the proposal to speed up support for the Tunisian coast guard and “other law enforcement authorities,” revealing again the EU’s emphasis on border security over saving lives, and its dogged insistence on propping up Libyan forces despite well-documented abuses amounting to crimes against humanity. The response to the Lampedusa arrivals reflects the worst elements of responses to migration: fearmongering, repressive deterrence measures, wasteful spending and mismanagement, alliances with abusive and unaccountable partners, and disregard for people’s rights.
A rational, humane, and rights-based approach to migration for the EU is possible. This should include pathways for safe and orderly migration, dedicated rescue at sea with predictable disembarkation in safe places, and genuine cooperation among EU countries to take responsibility for people who arrive irregularly and ensure they are treated fairly.