France accuses Italy of not respecting the “law of the sea”

France accused Italy on Friday of failing to abide by the law of the sea as European Union interior ministers held emergency talks to discuss concerns over a surge in asylum seekers in arrival via the Western Balkans.

The meeting, which takes place in Brussels at the request of Paris, follows the recent crisis with Rome over the humanitarian ship “Ocean Viking” and the 234 migrants on board. The ship has finally docked in France on November 11 “exceptionally” after the far-right Italian government led by Giorgia Meloni refused to receive it.

These tensions have rekindled a very sensitive debate on solidarity between EU countries in migration issue, while a reform introduced by the European Commission two years ago has stalled.

In response to Italy’s stance, which Paris considers “unacceptable”, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanan announced the suspension of French reception of 3,500 asylum seekers in Italy. Meloni considered this decision “unjustified” and recalled that her country welcomed her questabout ninety thousand immigrants, while about 12 European countries had pledged to welcome eight thousand people and take care of them, but in the end they welcomed 117.

Plans for the “redistribution” of migrants are foreseen under a temporary European solidarity mechanism approved in June, which Paris itself proposed during its presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Darmanin said upon his arrival in Brussels to attend the meeting that there is no reason for France to accept redistributed immigrants from Italy, if Rome “does not receive boats and does not accept the law of the sea”.

In an attempt to activate this mechanism, the European Commission presented an action plan on Monday to speed up the refugee transfer mechanism.

The plan also seeks to improve cooperation in rescue matter in sea ​​between Member States and with NGOs operating humanitarian vessels and to “promote discussions within the International Maritime Organisation” on “guidelines for such vessels carrying out rescues in sea”.

“Our wish is to take this mechanism back because it is the only mechanism that allows for burden sharing in all of Europe and forces entry countries, such as Italy, to set the borders we need and to register all foreigners arriving in the European region. The situation is not like that now,” Darmanan added.

The minister underlined that “the countries of the southern Mediterranean must also open their ports” to rescue boats for migrants “sailing in their territorial waters”.

The plan aims to strengthen cooperation with countries of origin and transit, in in particular Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, to curb migration and increase the irregular deportations of migrants.

Paris believes that the goal is also to “better frame the work of the NGOs”.

Italy, as well as Greece, Malta and Cyprus, criticize the humanitarian organizations that “manage their own ships in complete independence from the authorities concerned”.

Germany, for its part, refuses to place restrictions on the work of these ships, which are carrying out salvage operations in sea.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi recalled that “almost 2,000 people have died or are missing” in the Mediterranean since the beginning of the year, underlining “the vital importance of rescue in sea ​​by all the actors”.

But some member states, such as the Czech Republic, which currently holds the presidency of the European Union, are concerned about another migration route, via the Western Balkans. This route has seen around 130,000 people entering the European Union irregularly since the beginning of the year, according to the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Frontex, an increase of around 160%.

More than half of illegal immigrants arriving on European Union territory pass through this route, Czech Minister Vet Rakosan said Thursday after a meeting in Prague with his Austrian, Hungarian and Slovak counterparts, on the eve of the meeting in Brussels.

For his part, Greek Interior Minister Notis Mitarachi complained that Turkey is not respecting the 2016 migration deal, which specifically provides for the return of immigrants who are not eligible for asylum. He also believes that the voluntary solidarity mechanism is “insufficient”, calling for a “mandatory” solution.