2019.09.26 17:41

Lithuania mulls accepting migrants rescued in the Mediterranean under a new deal

Correction 2019.09.26 17:41

Lithuania is named as one of 11 countries willing to join a new solidarity mechanism to receive migrants rescued in the Mediterranean following a deal signed in Malta on Monday, according to AFP.

The draft deal signed by Germany, France, Italy and Malta aims to break the deadlock-negotiations between EU states following each migrant rescue at sea. Under the new deal, participating EU states would allow migrants to apply for asylum on their territory, taking the pressure off Italy and Malta.

Lithuania, Portugal, Luxembourg, Finland, Lithuania, Croatia and Ireland were named as potential nations to join the new solidarity mechanism following an informal meeting of foreign and interior ministers in Paris on June 15, according to AFP.

Details of the new mechanism are still due to be discussed at a meeting between EU interior ministers on October 8.

"We have found arrangements for a temporary emergency mechanism [...] that help Italy and Malta," German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer is quoted by news agencies as saying after the meeting in Malta.

Germany and France pledged to take in a quarter of the rescued migrants each, with the other nations taking in the rest. Each country would then process the asylum claims and decide whether to accept the applicants or organise repatriation.

“We believe asylum seekers should be distributed in the EU on voluntary principle,” the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs told in a written comment. “In March 2019, four individuals were transferred from Italy [to Lithuania],” adding that Lithuania has taken a decision to accept several more people from Italy and Malta “that meet the asylum criteria”.

“Lithuanians representatives were not present during the meeting in Valletta, and has not taken on any new responsibilities.”

Interior Ministry told in a written comment that they're currently analysing the deal, and it's too early to speak of any concrete commitments before the October 8 meeting.

Since July 2018, Germany has agreed to accept 565 migrants rescued at sea, but only 225 have reached the country so far, based on figures quoted by German media.

This mechanism plans to distribute migrants seeking asylum to a coalition of “volunteer” countries, in exchange for the opening of Italian and Maltese ports to rescue ships, according to Le Figaro.

NGO rescue-ships operating alongside official EU missions in the Mediterranean have come under international criticism, especially by the former Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, for allegedly aiding illegal passage to Europe, and many of the vessels were routinely seized, or barred entry from ports.

In some cases, rescuees were kept onboard the ships for weeks, as Italy and Malta forbid entry to their ports, and other EU countries engaged in lengthy and politically-volatile negotiations to accept the migrants.

Finnish Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo said it is "crucial that we move away from ship-by-ship based arrangements", towards a more predictable solution, according to EUObserver.

She noted that the proposal is a "good pilot case, limited in time and focused on disembarkation after search and rescue operations", which ensures "swift relocation of asylum seekers on a voluntary basis to other member states".

Around a thousand migrants drowned while trying to cross the Mediterranean this year, according to the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, while the death rate of those trying to cross from North Africa to Italy stood at around 15 percent in the first half of 2019.

Emmanuel Macron expressed the hope that "all member countries” will participate in the programme, Le Figaro reported.

Over 300,000 people have been rescued in the crossings between North Africa and Italy and Malta since 2015, according to the European Council.

NGOs such as SOS-Mediterranean and Médecins Sans Frontières that operate migrant-rescue ships have underlined the "need for solidarity" with Italy and Malta.

"We can not wait for everyone to agree, there is urgency in the central Mediterranean," said Sophie Beau, general manager of SOS-Mediterranean is quoted by Le Figaro.

CORRECTION: The earlier version of the story incorrectly stated that the other seven nations, including Lithuania, were willing to join the new mechanism following discussions in Malta, and not during the earlier, informal meeting on June 15.