Austria on Tuesday rejected a plea for other European Union countries to accept illegal immigrants from Italy, following a surge in arrivals on Lampedusa that seems likely to expose deep-seated divisions across the bloc over migration.
More than 2,000 mostly African illegal immigrants have reached the tiny island off Italy’s southern coast by boat since Sunday, overwhelming its reception center.
On Monday, the EU’s home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson called on member states to show solidarity with Italy and support their relocation. The EU’s executive said on Tuesday it had not yet received any pledges from countries to take any of them in.
Austria would not do so. “Austria is steering a very clear course: A distribution [of the Lampedusa immigrants] all over Europe is not an approach that will bring a solution,” its Europe minister, Karoline Edtstadler, said in Brussels.
The EU should rather help people in Africa directly, while also sending a message that not everyone who makes it to Europe can stay there, she added.
Lampedusa is one of the main landing points for people trying to get into Europe from Africa, and the latest arrivals were being transferred elsewhere in Italy.
The 27-nation EU has argued bitterly over immigration since 2015, when over 1 million mostly Syrian, Iraqi, or Afghan refugees reached its borders.
Arrivals dropped significantly to about 95,000 last year, according to United Nations data, most to Italy, Spain, and Greece.
In 2019, Italy agreed a plan with other European states to redistribute immigrants after they arrived.
But that voluntary scheme has not provided a stable solution, and a cross-EU pact to tackle the issue proposed by the Commission last September has not been ratified as Hungary and Poland have refused to participate.
The Italian government on Tuesday denied a report by the La Repubblica newspaper that it would ask the EU to pay Libya—where the vast majority of African refugees travelling by sea depart from—to stop immigrant boats leaving its coast.
The bloc struck such a deal with Turkey in 2016 to stem immigrant flows from the Balkans.
“At the moment there is no initiative regarding creating a similar deal” with Libya, an official in the prime minister’s office said.
The official said the government’s view was that the EU must give more attention to the situation in the southern Mediterranean and be ready to offer financial help to all African countries involved in immigrant flows.
By Sabine Siebold