On 26th January 2016 the Home Affairs Committee published the findings on the migration crisis HC427.
For the inquiry, the committee examined two witnesses; first to give evidence was Mr Khalid Chaouki, member of the Italian Chamber of Deputies and Chair of the Culture Committee, Parliamentary Assembly of the Union for the Mediterranean. He was asked to comment on the figure that 3,770 people had died trying to cross the Mediterranean – principally from Libya to Italy. He was asked who was to blame for this crisis? He said that it was neither an Italian nor a Greek problem; it was a European and global problem. He stated that the responsibility for the deaths since 3rd October 2013 lay with the European and Mediterranean governments and said the EU had failed to deal with the crisis. He was asked how much of the migration crisis fell to the responsibility of Libya’s instability, to which he replied a “large responsibility”.
Before Gaddafi’s exit, there had been a deal with the former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to stop the flow of illegal migration, but when the Gaddafi regime subsequently fell, the beginnings of the Mediterranean crisis appeared.
Numbers speak louder than words
Mr Chaouki was asked to confirm whether there were 500,000 people on the coast of North Africa waiting to cross into Italy, a figure which he did not confirm. He did however state that he suspected a higher figure, as he was aware of many people in the southern part of Libya detained in prisons who wish to flee. The commented that the International Organisation for Migration’s data referred to some 800,000 people.
The Dublin Convention
It was Mr Chaouki’s opinion that it was difficult for any one country to face this scenario on its own, he also commented that not all migrants wanted to stay in Italy as they may have family ties in other European nations or communities in other European countries. He said the relocation project decided by the European Council had failed up until now “because the numbers are really ridiculous compared to what other bordering countries with Syria have done.” The Chair asked whether Mr Chaouki thought that the Dublin Convention should be reviewed in light of his comments. He replied that if we were not brave enough to review the Dublin Convention, in light of the strong pressure that the European countries are under at the moment, we were denying the right of asylum seekers to go to other European countries and also denying the solidarity principle – the basis of the European community.
Did he think Greece was not ‘doing its bit’ in order to secure its borders? Did he think that the external border of the EU should be moved inwards, in effect suspending Schengen? He said he did not agree with this position and that it was best to support Greece through European policy and controlling arrivals.
A question of terrorism
Finally, he was asked how we could be sure that people coming from North Africa into Italy were not supporters of terrorism or were terrorists? What kind of checks were there preventing jihadists returning through the Mediterranean route? He replied until now there had been no confirmed cases of jihadists arriving in Italy by boat. Italy had implemented a mission called “Mare Sicuro” – Safe Seas – initially aimed at controlling and stopping the activity human trafficking. Up until now they had stopped 1,500 traffickers. However, it was not possible to exclude the possibility that some infiltrations by ‘terrorists’ could happen.
The final question was in relation to the problem of identification. A report published in December suggested that out of the 65,000 people arriving in Italy by sea during that month, 29,000 were fingerprinted. The question was, how can we increase the number of migrants who were being fingerprinted, and what support can be provided by other EU countries? Mr Chaouki’s stated that Italy had tried to increase the number of identifications “but the problem arises when we think about the prospects that we provide to those people”. When the relocation idea was approved in other European countries there was an increase of people who voluntarily came forward for identification.
The plight of children
The charity Save the Children provided statistics from the Italian Ministry of Labour and Welfare stating that 13,000 unaccompanied children arrived in 2014, and almost 4,000 children had disappeared since arriving. Mr Chaouki’s was asked what Italy had done about those missing children; he recognised that it was a serious problem which was also amplified by the fact that Italy was facing an additional problem with illegal trafficking and Mafia in some areas. The issue is currently under investigation by the Italian parliament. He stated that there were further issues of organ trafficking surrounding certain areas in Africa, like Synani.
Call in the second witness …
The next witness was Mr Gulyas, member of the Hungarian National Assembly and Vice Chairman of the Foundation for Civic Hungary. He said the Schengen Agreements was of enormous value and was a valuable asset for Europe and Hungary. He said the only places where the borders can be safely protected are places where there were physical borders – “where there are fences”. Hungary, therefore, have built a large fence.
Not sitting on the fence
He was asked if the fence erection had been effective in preventing people from entering Hungary. He quoted that 400,000 had arrived at the Hungarian border prior to the fence, and only a few dozen subsequently. “There is no doubt that different European societies and different communities have different approaches to the issue of migration,” he said.
He explained migrants want to end up in Germany, so first they travel to Austria, and from Austria travel to Germany – it is why Hungary have deployed troops to prevent people from boarding trains for their onward journey Germany. “Around 80% of those entering Hungary would like to end up in Germany and the Government made a decision on 5th September that they would accept migrants and they put no upper limit on their numbers”. He was asked whether Hungary was receiving resources from the EU to process people arriving, to which he replied that they had only received the basic level; amounting to about 10% of what they spend on protection and processing. When asked who he blamed for the crisis he said that he blamed those who pretended Europe was capable of taking on the migrants and refugees and he said that should fundamentally rethink issues of migration and issues of asylum.
The final question
The final question to him was: how do you process those who wish to settle in your country. He replied that if somebody claimed asylum in Hungary the procedure would have to be followed according to Hungarian and EU provisions. He stated that that just because somebody is a refugee and forced to leave their own country, it doesn’t entitle them to choose a country of safety.
“They have to accept the first safe country”. He was asked why Hungary, who was offered help with international agencies with reception arrangements, turned down that offer. He said that he was not aware of any means that were offered, that were not taken.
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