Today the European Commission has announced that it is stepping up its assistance to Italy. Firstly, the Frontex Joint Operation Triton will be extended until at least the end of 2015. Secondly, the European Commission has awarded an amount of €13.7 million in emergency funding from theAsylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) to Italy. The European Commission also stands ready to react quickly to any Italian request to increase the resources of Joint Operation Triton. To help Member States prepare for potentially continued high pressure given the ongoing instability in some countries in the Mediterranean neighbourhood, the Commission is also stepping up its surveillance of the implementation of the recommendations of the Mediterranean Task Force and will report back to the March Home Affairs Council on progress made. This comes on top of the support for Italy in dealing with migratory pressures of a total of more than €500 million for 2014-2020.
First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said: "As long as there are wars and hardships in our neighbourhood, people will continue to risk their lives in search of European shores. There is no simple solution to this complex problem, but it is clear that there is no national solution. There is only a European solution. We are working hard to prepare a comprehensive approach in a new European Agenda on Migration to be presented this year. In the meantime, we have heard Italy's call and are responding in every way we can, and we are ready to respond constructively if Italy identifies the need to step up Operation Triton's resources."
Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the Commission, said:"As we work to tackle the dramatic situation in Libya, we have decided to step-up our partnership with third countries along the main migratory routes as part of our cooperation on the Khartoum and Rabat processes. This should help to dismantle criminal networks of traffickers and smugglers and to give maximum protection to those in need, starting with areas neighbouring crises. Our resettlement efforts have improved and this should help to stabilise refugee communities in third countries, together with the work of the UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration."
Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said: "Today we face a stark reality: Europe needs to manage migration better, in all aspects. And this is above all a humanitarian imperative. No, we cannot replace Italy in the management of the external borders but we can lend a helping hand. So we will extend Operation Triton and we will increase its resources if this is what Italy needs. At the same time, we are not building Fortress Europe. Our resettlement efforts have improved and now we are working to propose a credible number of resettlement places, on a voluntary basis, to offer alternative legal avenues to protection. The message we are sending today is very simple: Italy is not alone. Europe stands with Italy."
Managing the external borders: Boosting Joint-Operation Triton
The Commission has today announced that Frontex will extend Joint Operation Triton, originally foreseen to run for only a few months, until at least the end of 2015.
Triton is a Frontex coordinated Joint Operation, requested by the Italian authorities that started its activity on 1 November 2014 in the Central Mediterranean to support Italy. Since then, almost 19.500 people have been saved, out of which close to 6.000 directly due to the deployment of Frontex Joint Operation Triton. The operation's monthly budget is estimated at between €1.5 and 2.9 million per month. 21 Member States participate in Joint Operation Triton with human (65 guest officers in total) and technical resources (12 technical assets: two Fixed Wing Aircrafts, one Helicopter, two Open Shore patrol vessels, six coastal Patrol Vessel, one Coastal patrol boat; five debriefing/screening teams).
Frontex has only a supporting function and can only provide assistance to Member States at their request. So far, all Italian requests for assistance have been met in full. The European Commission has today confirmed that it stands ready to look constructively at any Italian request for greater assistance.
The initial tentative operational budget allocation for the continuation of Joint Operation Triton until the end of the year 2015 is estimated at €18 250 000. For the management of its border, Italy already receives more than €150 million under the Internal Security Fund for Borders.
€13.7 million in Emergency Funding for asylum seekers and refugees
In a first step, the Commission has today put €13.7 million in emergency funding from the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) at Italy's disposal to support the country in managing the high influx of asylum seekers and improve the situation on the ground.
The Italian authorities made an additional request for emergency assistance in light of the dramatic increase of arrivals of unaccompanied minors (by 278% compared with 2013), focusing on their reception and assistance. An amount of approximately €11.95 million will now be granted.
In addition, €1.715 million will be granted to continue the project "Praesidium", which is implemented by the Italian authorities together with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organisation for Migration, Save the Children Italy and the Italian Red Cross. "Praesidium" focuses on the first arrival procedures, mainly in Sicily, including the first reception, medical screening, legal information and special support for vulnerable asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors, and monitoring of the reception conditions in the centres hosting asylum seekers, which are highly challenged by the large inflows.
The provision of emergency assistance under the AMIF is part of the Commission's overall efforts to implement the principle of solidarity through concrete and effective actions addressing urgent and specific needs of Member States facing high asylum and migratory pressure. To this end, for 2014 and 2015, the Commission has put aside a total of €50 million which will be delivered through the AMIF. The Commission's emergency funding comes on top of the regular AMIF funds Member States receive for the implementation of their national programmes for the period 2014-2020 – in the case of Italy a basic amount of €310.36 million.
Addressing the root causes of migration
After the tragic events which took place off the coast of Lampedusa on 3 October 2013 when 366 migrants lost their lives, the European Commission established the Task Force Mediterranean to identify concrete short- and medium-term operational actions to better mobilise the EU's efforts. In its Communication "On the Work of the Task Force Mediterranean", endorsed by the European Council in December 2013, the Commission outlined different strands of action: 1) increased engagement with third countries in order to avoid that migrants embark on hazardous journeys towards the EU; 2) regional protection, resettlement and legal ways to access Europe; 3) fight against trafficking, smuggling and organised crime; 4) increased border surveillance; 5) assistance and solidarity with EU Member States facing migratory pressures.
Following the Council Conclusions on 'Taking Action to Better Manage Migratory Flows' adopted on 10 October 2014, the Commission reported on the Task force Mediterranean at the Home Affairs Council in December 2014 and will report on progress made at the upcoming Home Affairs Council on 12 March 2015.
Background – Solidarity in Action
Many actions have been undertaken to support Italy in the framework of the migration and asylum policy. Following the 2013 Lampedusa tragedy additional emergency funding was mobilised to an unprecedented extent. The Commission granted a €30 million package of emergency assistance to Italy (€10 million under European Refugee Fund emergency actions; €7.9 million for the reinforcement of Frontex Joint-Operations in the Central Mediterranean and €12 million made available under the External Borders Fund and Return Fund emergency actions) which aims on the one hand to increase the capacity of accommodation and of the authorities examining asylum cases, and on the other hand to support surveillance and rescue operations at sea.
So far, the Italian authorities have not made an additional request for emergency funding in light of recent events.
But the Commission does not merely react to emergencies. In 2007-2013 Italy received as a basic allocation €478.7 million from the EU under the four former Funds in the area of Migration (European Refugee Fund, European Fund for the Integration of Third Country Nationals, European Return Fund and External Borders Fund).
In addition, more funds were allocated for the 2014-2020 period: more than €310 million from the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund and more than €212 million from the Internal Security Fund. Italy is thus the largest beneficiary of EU funding for migration.
Concrete assistance is also provided by the European Asylum Support Office. EASO is a key player in order to channel the solidarity of Member States to countries which are under significant pressure.
EASO is carrying out support programmes for Italy (as well as Greece and Bulgaria). Several Member States have committed experts and other qualified personnel to be deployed in Asylum Support Teams.
This assistance complements the EU's action to address migration and asylum issues by working with third countries. The European Union is actively continuing its engagement with third countries of origin and transit as well as its close cooperation with the international community in view of addressing the issues of migration and asylum, and in particular combatting the root causes of irregular and forced migration. Regional dialogues - the Rabat Process on Migration and Development, the EU-Africa Migration, Mobility and Employment Partnership and the EU-ACP Migration Dialogue – seek to foster cooperation and exchange of best practices between countries of origin, transit and destination in all areas of migration management. Mobility Partnerships with Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan as well as the Khartoum Process with Eastern African countries offer also improved opportunities for cooperation.