Apr 22, 2015 5:19 AM

Italy: refugee camps in Niger, Sudan to stem migrant flow

The Associated Press

ROME (AP) Italy pressed the European Union on Wednesday to devise concrete, robust steps to stop the deadly tide of migrants on smugglers' boats in the Mediterranean, including setting up refugee camps in countries bordering Libya.

Italian Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti also said human traffickers must be targeted with military intervention.

"We know where the smugglers keep their boats, where they gather," Pinotti told Sky TG24 TV in an interview. "The plans for military intervention are there."

She was speaking a day before EU leaders hold an emergency summit in Brussels called in the wake of a shipwreck off Libya last weekend which authorities believe may have killed more than 800 migrants. It would be the highest known loss of migrants' lives in a single incident in the Mediterranean.

In the latest arrival of migrants, an Italian naval vessel docked in the Sicilian port of Augusta with 446 people aboard who had been rescued from a smugglers' boat on Tuesday off the southern coast of the Italian mainland. The navy said 59 of the migrants are children.

Pinotti said she was cautiously hopeful that the EU summit on Thursday, solicited by Italy, would take tangible steps to deal with the migrant crisis. Hundreds of migrants have been arriving on Italian shores for days, after being rescued at sea when their rickety and overloaded boats run into problems.

"We think it's the moment in which Europe decides, forcefully, to have an international police operation, which will undo this band of criminals," Pinotti said. She spoke as Premier Matteo Renzi addressed lawmakers.

The migrants' crisis deteriorated dramatically with last weekend's capsizing of a boat loaded with hundreds of migrants, many of them locked in the hold by their smugglers.

Renzi urged the European Union to swiftly craft long-range, comprehensive policy on the migrants. One way, he said, would be to establish refugee camps in Niger, Sudan and elsewhere in Africa with U.N. assistance.

Italy has saved some 200,000 migrant lives at sea since the start of 2014. But Italy's "noble, generous reaction alone isn't enough."

"We are asking Europe to be Europe, not just when it's time to devise a budget."

He said broad, long-term EU strategy, with wider sea patrols and a robust presence in southern Libya, would help combat "21st-century slave drivers" of migrants.

Pinotti said Italy would be ready to take the helm of any military intervention if asked and as long as it is carried out as an international mission, backed by the United Nations.

"We're ready to do our share. We're the closest country to Libya," she said.

The defense minister said the flow of migrants isn't about to stop, saying "90 percent are from Nigeria, Ethiopia, Somalia, from places where they are afraid of dying. We cannot stop them" from leaving their homelands.

Renzi and Pinotti indicated that requests for asylum could be processed in refugee camps in African countries near Libya. These could include Tunisia, Niger and Sudan. Italy's defense minister said that it would then be up to all EU countries to take their share of migrants found eligible for refugee status or asylum.

She urged "sharing and co-responsibility." The migrants "all can't arrive in Italy," she said.

Because Italy is the first EU country the migrants set foot in, they stay in reception centers, sometimes for years, while their requests or appeals for asylum are processed.

Migrants deemed ineligible for asylum are ordered expelled, but many slip away and head to northern Europe, to reach relatives.


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