The Italian government is astonished
at news that Germany is set to fund non-governmental
organisations rescuing migrants at sea and helping them in Italy
too, and demands clarification, sources at the office of Premier
Giorgia Meloni said Friday.
The sources voiced "great astonishment at the news reported by ANSA according to which a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry of the Federal Republic of Germany has announced imminent funding to NGOs for a project to assist migrants on Italian territory and a project of 'rescues' at sea".
"The Italian government will immediately contact the German authorities for clarification.
"It is hoped that the news is unfounded because the financing by Germany of NGO activities on Italian territory would be a serious anomaly." The sources added that supporting the transfer of irregular immigrants in Italy "would represent an extremely serious anomaly in the dynamics that regulate the relations among states at a European and international level".
They said that "this news is in any case an opportunity to reaffirm the need to achieve clarity on the activities of NGOs in the Mediterranean and the need to establish that migrants transported by organizations financed by foreign States must be received by the latter".
Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi, meanwhile, said that the government knew "nothing" about German funding for NGO activity for migrants on the way to Italy or after they are inside the country.
The German foreign ministry spokesman told ANSA earlier on Friday that the German government is to fund NGOs working to support migrants and refugees arriving in Italy by sea and once they have arrived.
"Funding of hundreds of thousands of euros for a project to assist migrants ashore in Italy and one for an NGO that operates rescues "at sea" is "imminent", said the spokesperson, without specifying which organisations would receive the funding.
(SOS Humanity later told ANSA that it was the recipient of the funding, which had begun last Monday).
The spokesperson told ANSA that the foreign ministry is implementing a "financial support programme set up by the Bundestag (the German parliament, ed.) that aims to "support both civil rescue at sea and projects on land for people rescued at sea".
"We have received several applications for funding. In two cases, the examination of the applications has already been completed. The disbursement of funds in these two cases is imminent," he continued.
"These are a project for the onshore assistance in Italy of people rescued at sea and a project of a non-governmental organisation on sea rescue," said the spokesman, adding that each project would receive between 400,000 and 800,000 euros.
(Government sources later said there would be total of two million euros in funding each year until 2026).
"Rescuing people who are in distress at sea is a legal, humanitarian and moral duty," the spokesperson continued.
"Like national coast guards, in particular the Italian Coast Guard, civilian rescuers in the central Mediterranean also use their ships to save people in distress at sea," concluded the spokesperson.
Several German NGOs already operate migrant search and rescue missions in the central Mediterranean, alongside others from France and Italy.
Meloni's right-wing government has restricted their activities by banning multiple sea rescues and instructing ships to disembark rescued migrants and refugees in distant ports.
Italy is struggling to manage a 100% increase in the number of sea arrivals in 2023, with 132,832 people having arrived so far according to interior ministry data.
Some 1,599 migrants and refugees died or went missing in the Central Mediterranean in the same period according to UNHCR data.
The lay Catholic Sant'Egidio Community charity, for its part, said it had signed a fresh deal with Berlin to fund migrant activities in Italy, as part of a years-long relationship.
Berlin also on Friday reiterated that Italy needs to resume taking back asylum seekers from Germany under the terms of the Dublin Regulation if it wants Germany to resume relocations under the European voluntary solidarity mechanism.
"Italy is not respecting readmissions under the Dublin system, and until it does, we will not accept any more refugees" from Italy through the solidarity mechanism, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser told the ZDF broadcaster.
Now Berlin is waiting for Rome to "meet us again halfway" in the fulfillment of its "obligations", Faeser said.
The Dublin Regulation, dating to 2013, establishes that asylum claims must be handled by the EU country of first entry unless decided otherwise, and that this country must readmit asylum seekers found lodging claims elsewhere.
Separately, in 2022 a voluntary solidarity mechanism was agreed at European level for the redistribution of asylum seekers in support of front-line countries such as Italy that receive the vast majority of arrivals, especially by sea.
Disputes over migration risk "dissolving" the bloc, its top diplomat said in a British newspaper interview on Friday.
The migrant issue risks dissolving the EU, the bloc's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell told the Guardian Friday.
Migration could be "a dissolving force for the European Union," because of the deep cultural differences between countries and their long-term inability to reach a common migrant policy, he said in an interview.
"Some members of the EU have a 'Japanese' style: we don't want to mix, we don't want migrants, we don't want to accept people from the outside. We want our purity," said Borrell, stressing that, on the contrary, Europe needs migrants to counteract falling demographic trends.
He went on to say that nationalism is on the rise in Europe, due more to migration than to euroskepticism.
"We feared that Brexit would be an epidemic. But it has not been one. It has been a vaccine. No one wants to follow the exit of the British from the European Union.
"Migration is a bigger fracture for the European Union. And it could be a dissolving force for the European Union." Despite the institution of a common EU external border, Borrell told the British daily, "we have not been able so far to agree on a common migration policy." He added: "if we want to survive from the productive standpoint we need migrants".
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