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Migration makes strange bedfellows of Germany and Italy

A member of the Carabinieri gestures towards migrants outside the hotspot, on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, Italy, September 16, 2023.

A member of the Carabinieri gestures towards migrants outside the hotspot, on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, Italy, September 16, 2023.

REUTERS/Yara Nardi
Just a week after a row between Italy and Germany over immigration policy, the two states now seem to be backing each other on the need to curb migration flows.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said during a visit to Italy that both countries had reached the “limits of [their] capacity” to accommodate migrants, and called for “fair distribution” of the burdens of migration across the European Union.

The background. In just the last week, over 11,000 people have landed on the Italian island of Lampedusa. They’re part of the 127,000 migrants who have landed in Italy in 2023, more than double the number who had arrived by this point in 2022.

Under current EU asylum regulations, migrants are required to apply for asylum in the member state to which they first arrive. Should they, say, leave Italy to try their chances with Germany’s relatively generous system, they’re to be deported back.

But Rome has recently been refusing to accept back asylum-seekers who leave, citing the disproportionate influx. That caused a row with Berlin, which announced last week it would suspend a voluntary agreement to take in 3,500 asylum seekers who had landed in Italy — before suddenly reversing course.

The European Union received over 519,000 asylum requests between January and June, a 28% year-on-year increase and the most since 2016. Germany fielded 30%, about as many as France and Spain combined. That’s not counting over a million Ukrainian refugees whom Germany hosts, far and away the most in Western Europe.

So when Meloni says the rest of the bloc needs to share the burden, it resonates in Berlin. It’s also in the SPD’s interest to be seen taking a more proactive anti-immigration stance, as their conservative rivals have recently revived the idea of a national migrant cap. It’s part of a larger shift on migration politics in Germany, as even SPD’s left-wing allies in the Green party call for tougher migration standards faced with the ascendance of the far-right Alternative fur Deutschland.

Convincing the rest of the bloc to step up will be difficult. Since migration to Europe from Syria spiked in 2015, the EU has struggled to find consensus on bloc-wide immigration policies due to conflicting pressures in the politics of each member state.

GZEROMEDIA

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