Sun, 03 Dec 2023

The leaders of nine Mediterranean and southern European countries, the so-called "Med9" met on Friday in Malta for talks focused on exploding numbers of migrants. An EU agreement to deal with the problem, however, may still be out of reach.

The summit comes a day after the UN refugee organisation UNHCR said more than 2,500 migrants had perished or disappeared while attempting to cross the Mediterranean so far this year.

The UN children's agency, Unicef, said that between June and August alone, at least 990 people died or went missing. This is triple the 2022 figure.

The Swiss-based non-profit SOS Mediterranee said more than 23,000 people had lost their lives in the Mediterranean Sea since 2014.

Migration deal

The Med9 meet also comes as EU interior ministers finally make headway on new rules for how the bloc handles asylum seekers and irregular migrants.

There was new impetus to reach a deal after a sharp rise in migrants landing on the Italian island of Lampedusa earlier this month.

France 'will not welcome migrants' from Lampedusa, says minister

The hard-right coalition government of Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has clashed with both France and Germany as she presses other EU countries to share the burden. So far this year, the number of arrivals at Lampedusa has already passed 133,000.

But Meloni and Macron have sought to ease tensions in recent days, and met Tuesday in Rome on the sidelines of the state funeral for ex-Italian president Giorgio Napolitano.

Club Med

The EU Med group, also known as Club Med, was set up in 2013 by Spain and Cyprus and is an informal cooperation between nine EU countries, most of which border the Mediterranean: Croatia, Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain.

The group's first joint statement, the 2016 Athens Declaration, was to ensure the internal and external security of Europe, and reinforce cooperation with African countries.

While addressing the challenge of migration was an afterthought, on Friday it was the first item to be tabled.

Revamped Pact

The discussions in Malta fit into larger EU debates on how to deal with migration in general.

Brussels is about to sign a revamped Pact on Migration and Asylum, which will seek to relieve pressure on frontline countries such as Italy and Greece by relocating some arrivals to other EU states.

Those countries opposed to hosting asylum seekers, specifically Poland and Hungary, would be required to pay the ones that do take migrants.

A final agreement may still be elusive, with Poland intending to use its veto to block it.

The country's ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party faces elections in October and one of its main campaign promises is to protect Poland from illegal immigration. It announced a referendum on the issue on the same day as the vote.

"I am going to the European Council next week where I will uphold my veto on illegal migration," Mateusz Morawiecki said in a statement.

Boats from Africa

Meanwhile, both Meloni and Macron want to prevent boats departing from north Africa by working more closely with Tunisia, despite questions over the country's human rights standards and treatment of migrants.

The European Commission said last week it was set to release the first instalment of funds to Tunisia, one of the main launching points for boats, under a plan to bolster its coastguard and tackle traffickers.

Italy's Interior Minister, Matteo Piantedosi, met with his Tunisian and Libyan counterparts in Sicily Thursday for talks on stopping the boats.

Controls at sea

Rome and Paris are also keen to intensify EU controls at sea, which are covered by the EU's Frontex agency.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen included the possible expansion of naval missions in the Mediterranean in a 10-point action plan this month in Lampedusa.

The leaders will also discuss regional challenges posed by natural disasters following a devastating earthquake in Morocco, flood disaster in Libya, and extreme weather events in Southern Europe.

(with newswires)

Originally published on RFI

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