MEPs lambast ‘xenophobic, populist Salvini’ after Aquarius incident

MEPs lambast ‘xenophobic, populist Salvini’ after Aquarius incident

'The EU abandoned Italy, Greece and Malta'

MEPs lambasted the “xenophobic and populist” behaviour of Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini during a 90-minute debate on humanitarian emergencies in the Mediterranean.

The harsh criticism came after Mr Salvini closed Italian ports for the humanitarian vessel Aquarius.

Spanish MEP Elena Valenciano insisted that Mr Salvini used the humanitarian crisis to “gain political votes” and that he was breaching international law when he denied entry to the 629 migrants aboard the boat.

“We’re not solving the immigration problem but feeding the discourse of the populists and xenophobes,” she said, insisting that help needed to be given to countries like Italy.

Read: Migrant convoy heads to Spain as Italy hits out at 'hypocritical' France

Greens MEP Phillippe Lambert insisted that Mr Salvini used the situation as “political blackmail”, adding that Malta was on the front line of migration.

Other MEPs however, pointed out the European Union’s failures in handling the migration crisis.

While we should criticise Mr Salvini on how he approached its matter, no one should condemn Italy, because the EU abandoned it, MEP Paola Rangel said.

The EU also abandoned Malta and Greece, who found themselves alone financially and logistically, he said.

Nationalist MEP David Casa also noted that some countries had abandoned Malta and Italy.

“This tragedy in the Mediterranean is leaving the biggest chasm between member states, even between the biggest allies such as Italy and Malta,” Mr Casa said.

Malta was on the receiving end of some criticism, with MEP Barbara Spinelli saying that the country had not fulfilled its obligations when it came to Search and Rescue operations.

Italian MEP Mara Bizzotto said Malta and France have done nothing in the face of the migration issue. “Mr Salvini will close ports to defend Italians, not to defend French petrol companies in Libya,” she said.

Her comments came under fire by Maltese MEP Miriam Dalli, who insisted that “all Maltese assets are dedicated to saving lives at sea.”

It is up to the member states to ensure that other governments do not get off “scot-free,” Ms Dalli said.

MEP Roberta Metsola insisted that it “is difficult not to be angry knowing that when it comes to migration, Prime Ministers remain stuck.”

She insisted that the Dublin regulations had to be reformed immediately, and noted that a distinction needed to be drawn between those in need of protection and those seeking work.

“In the medium term, we need to look seriously into having EU-run disembarkation locations in safe third countries outside the Union, with EU standards, where anyone saved from the dark sea can be disembarked immediately, rescued, vetted, processed in full recognition of their rights and either returned or resettled,” she said.

In a written statement, MEP Alfred Sant said “Unless we make a clear distinction between genuine asylum seekers and economic emigrants, European citizens will not understand our purpose on migration issues. Unless we have functioning policies and rules that deal fairly, strictly and effectively with such issues, on a European basis, populists and extremists will win the political challenge."

Many MEPs called for a reform of the Dublin regulations- the EU regulations that determine which member state is responsible for asylum seekers.

Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulus said that migration was not the responsibility of Malta, Italy or Spain alone.

He insisted that the Aquarius incident showed that structured solutions were needed, adding that he was not there to play a “blame game” with member states.