European Commission President Pledges $40.7 Million to Help Italy Deal with Influx of Refugees

By October 14, 2013—
“After the drowning of more than 300 Africans near the Italian island of Lampedusa, the European Commission president, José Manuel Barroso, pledged 30 million euros, or about $40.7 million, last week to help Italy deal with an overwhelming influx of refugees. While this is a good start, it is far from enough.

On Friday, another boat carrying more than 200 refugees capsized off the coast of Sicily, leaving more than 30 people dead. Over the past two decades, 20,000 migrants have died trying to make it across the Mediterranean to Europe’s shores. According to Frontex, the European agency charged with managing Europe’s borders, 73,000 migrants illegally crossed Europe’s borders in 2012 and 115,000 more were turned away. Most flee political turmoil and economic collapse at home, with thousands seeking refuge in Europe after regime change in Tunisia, the war in Libya and, most recently, the conflict in Syria. These numbers have spawned organized criminal networks that prey upon desperate refugees.

Increased migration has been exploited by far-right political parties to fan fears of refugees as threats to living standards and national identities. Polls last week showed that, ahead of French municipal elections, there was record-breaking levels of voter support for National Front, the far-right party led by Marine Le Pen.

To prevent more tragedies, the European Commission proposes expanding search-and-rescue operations by Frontex. Such a move would need additional funding from European Union members, which may prove a political challenge. Equally challenging is breaking up the human-trafficking networks and providing aid to those who qualify under immigration law to stay in Europe and arranging for humane repatriation for those who do not. It is cruel to impose, as does Italian law, stiff fines and deportation on survivors of human trafficking.

President François Hollande of France says he will discuss migration policies with European leaders this month. The international community could help by offering more refugees sanctuary beyond Europe’s borders. Europe alone cannot deal with the consequences of war and repressive regimes in Africa and the Middle East. The tragedy near Lampedusa is more than an European tragedy. It is a human tragedy.”

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