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EU countries decline to open ports as relief for Italy’s migrant influx

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    Other EU countries have refused to open their ports to migrants as proposed by Italy, which is trying to cope with a constantly growing inflow of migrants. The other bloc members would rather see more economic migrants returned home.

    At an informal EU meeting in Estonia on Thursday, several leaders spoke out against opening their ports for migrants.

    “Just opening more ports will not solve the problem,” Dutch Security Minister Stephanus Blok said, as cited by the EU Observer. 

    “I don’t think we’re going to open Belgian ports. No,” joked Theo Francken, Belgian state secretary for asylum and migration.

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    German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere also voiced his concern over the potential de-centralization of rescue efforts, saying Berlin doesn’t support “the so-called regionalization of the rescue operations.”

    Italy’s Interior Minister Marco Minniti has said that the ports proposal had encountered “difficult opposition.”

    Estonia, which hosted the meeting, didn’t even mention the proposal in the subsequent communique.

    Still, the EU ministers acknowledged that Italy needed help.

    “The situation in the Central Mediterranean and the resulting pressure on Italy is of great concern to all member states,” their written statement said, according to AFP.

    On Wednesday, the European Commission offered to resettle some 37,000 migrants, and relocate about 160,000 refugees from Italy and Greece.

    However, the Estonian authorities didn’t refer to this latest call, but rather focused on another way to deal with the issue.

    READ MORE: EU refugee relocation plan ‘a disappointment’ – UN Refugee Agency chief

    “Returns policy is the key word in the migration crisis. If we can send people back this will be the first and most important preventative measure, so that they understand there is no reason to come here,” Estonian Interior Minister Andres Anvelt, said, as cited by the EU Observer.

    “Illegal migration and also economic migration must be stopped,” he said.

    Over the past couple of weeks, Italy has urged EU member states for a “concrete contribution” by opening their ports to rescue vessels, and at the end of June, threatened to stop vessels from other countries disembarking rescued migrants at its ports, AFP reported.

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    Since the beginning of this year, some 85,000 people arrived in Italy.

    The ever-growing influx of migrants has brought Italy’s tensions with neighboring Austria to a new level: this week, Vienna warned it would send 750 troops and armored vehicles to protect the frontier.

    The latest EU meeting came on the backdrop of the Amnesty International report on Thursday that blamed “the soaring death toll in the central Mediterranean and the horrific abuses faced by thousands of refugees and migrants in Libyan detention centres” on “failing EU policies.”

    “If the second half of this year continues as the first and urgent action is not taken, 2017 looks set to become the deadliest year for the deadliest migration route in the world. The EU must rethink its cooperation with Libya’s woefully dysfunctional coastguard and deploy more vessels where they are desperately needed,” John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe Director, warned.

    The number of migrants crossing into Spain by sea from North Africa has doubled in 2017 from last year, outpacing the Libya-Italy route as the fastest growing entry point to Europe.

    The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says the spike in migrant boats is already putting a lot of stress on Spain’s insufficient migration structures.

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