Cyprus and three other EU Mediterranean ‘frontline states’ issued a joint statement on a dispute over a deal for Europe to jointly help asylum-seekers.
Over the weekend, Italy, Greece, Malta and Cyprus underlined their positions that they “cannot subscribe to the notion that countries of first entry are the only possible European landing spots for illegal immigrants.”
They added that the number of migrants taken in by other EU member states “only represents a very small fraction of the actual number of irregular arrivals.”
The four countries condemned the operations of private charity vessels “acting in total autonomy from the competent state authorities” to save hundreds of migrants rescued at sea.
Italy’s new far-right-led government was locked in a weekslong standoff with humanitarian groups that rescue migrants in the central Mediterranean Sea.
It argued that the countries whose flag the ship flies should take in the migrants, not Italy, a position vehemently opposed by humanitarian groups, legal experts, and human rights activists.
After ignoring repeated requests for a safe port, Italy directed three ships with migrants to ports in southern Italy, initially selecting for disembarkation only those deemed vulnerable, including minors and those with medical conditions.
Eventually, all were allowed to enter Italy. But a fourth ship, the Ocean Viking, remained in international waters and eventually made its way toward France after nearly three weeks at sea, finally docking Friday at the port of Toulon.
The Ocean Viking episode led to a diplomatic flap between Italy and France after Italy’s new prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, thanked Paris for accepting the migrants before France agreed.
French Interior Minister Gerard Darmanin then announced France’s withdrawal from a “solidarity” mechanism approved in June to reduce the pressure on frontline countries such as Greece, Italy and Spain by taking in asylum-seekers.
French officials also announced new border checks with Italy.
Largely uncontrolled arrival of some 1.4 million people from the Middle East and Africa in the past two years, many fleeing Syria’s civil war, has triggered bitter EU infighting.
Dispute centres on how countries far from the main migration routes should help frontline peers like Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Malta.