Experts question von der Leyen's plan to tackle crisis in Italy's island
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Sunday unveiled a 10-point plan to help Italy deal with the migrant crisis on its Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, a plan that some observers regard as ineffective.
About 11,000 irregular migrants arrived in Lampedusa, located between Malta and Tunisia, from Africa over the past week, triggering a crisis on the tiny island, with a local population of only 6,000. The island's migrant reception center only has a capacity for 400 migrants, prompting local mayor Filippo Mannino to declare a state of emergency on Wednesday.
Von der Leyen, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson visited the island's migrant reception center, met the local community, and inspected the "boat graveyard" where irregular migrants' boats are stored.
"Migration is a European challenge that requires a European answer and solution," von der Leyen said.
"It is concrete actions that will bring change on the ground. It is only through solidarity and unity that we can achieve this. And you can count on the European Union.
"We will decide who comes to the European Union and under what circumstances, and not the smugglers and traffickers," said von der Leyen.
Some local residents held a protest against the irregular migrants who overwhelmed the island and caused tensions with locals.
"We are doing everything in our power," Meloni told the protesters. At a news conference later at the Lampedusa airport, she stressed that the "challenge of the massive flow of immigrants" must be addressed at a pan-European level.
"If somebody here in Europe were to think that this crisis that we are tackling and facing could just be solved within Italian borders, then it would be a very big and huge mistake," she said.
"We cannot solve this problem by resettling migrants within EU borders. We must also address the external dimensions of the issue. The only way to stop illegal migration is to stop these illegal departures."
At the news conference, von der Leyen announced a 10-point plan to help Italy deal with the crisis.
They include increasing assistance to Italy in the procedures related to the arrival of migrants through the EU Agency for Asylum and EU border protection agency Frontex; supporting the transfer of migrants arriving in Lampedusa to other countries willing to accept them; boosting cooperation with African countries where the majority of the migrants come from, and raising the number of migrants to be sent back.
The plan also supports efforts to prevent human trafficking through partnerships with source or transit countries; to increase border patrols at sea and in the air; to disrupt human traffickers' logistical networks; to enhance cooperation with United Nations migration and refugee agencies for voluntary returns; and to implement migration agreements.
The EU signed a deal with Tunisia in July to help end illegal migration from North Africa, but the European Commission has yet to pay the 100 million euros ($106.6 million) promised in the deal.
Meloni on Friday vowed "extraordinary measures" to tackle the crisis, including calling for a naval blockade of North Africa, a call that von der Leyen did not mention on Sunday.
"She's got a plan … And it's got 10 points … And it's got 0 chance of achieving anything," Jonathan Eyal, associate director of London-based Royal United Services Institute for defense and security studies, said on X in response to von der Leyen's post on the social media platform on her plan.
"#Lampedusa — as expected, President @vonderleyen, spoke plenty but said nothing at all," Harris Samaras, an economist and chairman of Pytheas, an international investment banking organization, said on X.