While mainstream media avoided this issue for a long time, the situation has spiralled out of control – the Italian island of Lampedusa has become the centre of a long-lasting migration crisis. There is no indication that it will end soon. This is a result of European apprehension and indifference.
An option of paying Tunisia or any other state for “protection” is a desperate action that could bring more harm than benefits. This way, Europe becomes a hostage in the hands of a state that can blackmail us. A good example is Turkey, which, according to Ankara’s official statistics, has 3.9 million people seeking international protection on its territory (mainly from Syria). Erdogan periodically threatens to “open the gates” if the European Union is too critical of his regime. Such a policy is effective.
The effectiveness of a blackmail policy was undoubtedly assessed by other states, including Tunisia, where Kais Saeid has been in power since October 2019 – officially as the President, but in reality, he is a dictator who, in 2021, dismissed both the parliament and the Prime Minister.
The current crisis in Lampedusa – or rather, its scale (as the issue has been ongoing for years) – is a deliberate action by Tunisia, aimed at forcing better terms in its agreement with the European Union.
In this context, Witold Repetowicz – a Polish expert on the MENA region and the so-called weaponization of mass migration – rightly pointed out that “the crisis in Lampedusa exposes schizophrenia and duplicity of the European Union. Schizophrenia, because first, the EU had negotiated a deal with Kais Said, and then the European Parliament sabotaged it and provoked Said into weaponizing the migration flow. Duplicity, because it’s evident that some are cynically trying to use this against Meloni”.
Even if Tunisia signs a favourable agreement for itself, it cannot be ruled out that it will quickly seek to renegotiate it. Blackmailers can be greedy. Furthermore, this is a real threat – other countries in the region may also resort to using migrants to pressure the weak and apprehensive European Union for concessions, not only financial but also ideological. The European Union will not be able to criticize Tunisia for its lack of democracy.
From the perspective of Europe, the current crisis is shocking on several levels. The first of these is the complete passiveness of the European Union authorities, who allow themselves to be blackmailed by Tunisia and its low-level dictator. Furthermore, EU decision-makers still do not grasp the real seriousness of the situation. Although President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen declares assistance to Italy, in practice, she denies it. An idea of relocation, which the European Commission promotes and which is supported by the European Parliament, is not a viable solution, whether it’s voluntary or compulsory.
In the case of voluntary relocation, it is difficult to expect any EU member states to willingly take on a growing political, financial, and social burden. Compulsory relocation is even more abstract – even if states were somehow forced to accept unwanted migrants, how can these people be forced to live, for example, in Romania or Poland instead of Germany or France?
Another disappointment is an enormous weakness of European governments, which – despite having naval forces and coastal guards – don’t even attempt to protect their own territory (there are very few exceptions, such as Greece and now Poland – both of which have experienced purposeful and organized migration pressure, similar to what Italy is currently facing). Particularly shocking are scenes from Spain – not often shown by mainstream media – where dozens of young Africans arrive at Spanish shores without any problems or interference and then escape inland.
Europe is too afraid to use any force, but this is just hypocrisy; the Europeans have no issue paying others to do it for them. This is nothing new, as a decade ago, the European Union – then just as vocally advocating for human rights, diversity, and openness – had no moral qualms about cooperating in anti-immigration actions with the Libyan regime of Muammar Gaddafi.
European countries also have special forces that should be used to fight smugglers relentlessly and forcibly return illegal immigrants to the MENA region. Penalties for human trafficking must be more severe.
A signal must be clear – anyone who unlawfully sets foot on European Union territory cannot stay in it. Furthermore, if a country – like Tunisia – cannot handle the problem, it can count on assistance. However, if it consciously uses migrants to blackmail Europe, EU member states will establish a cordon sanitaire around such a country. This is a matter of the highest stakes – the survival of Europe and its identity.
Italy, which has successfully internationalized the current problem (but without achieving any real results), cannot be left alone. This is a problem for all of us, so European countries should collectively support Rome in necessary actions – a full maritime blockade (which is the only way to reduce the scale of the problem) and the fight against smugglers and any organizations that have turned human trafficking into a lucrative business under the guise of humanitarian activities.
We cannot have illusions – assuming that accepting the current group of illegal migrants from Africa will end the problem is extremely naive, harmful, and self-destructive. Hundreds of thousands, even millions of young Africans – mostly without any education – will feel emboldened and also head for Europe, which increasingly resembles Rome in its final phase of power. Regardless of how much we may dislike this vision, we must come to terms with reality as soon as possible – the later remedial measures are implemented, the more painful it will be.
However, one cannot exclude a highly negative but likely scenario – a weakened and fearful Europe will do nothing to defend itself.
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