BRUSSELS – During the Justice and Home Affairs Council held last Monday, the EU Interior Ministers discussed the relocation of 120,000 asylum seekers in response to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker new quota plan.

As early as May the EU proposed a first refugee quota plan to relocate 40,000 migrants from Italy and Greece to other European countries. Last week, in his State of Union Speech President Juncker suggested a new plan asking state members to accept an additional 120,000 refugees and urged Europe to act as a Union: helping migrants is a matter of humanity as well as “historical fairness”. But it’s not new for some European countries.

“The arrivals via sea started 26 years ago” says Antonino Meli, spokesperson of the Italian Red Cross operating on Lampedusa, an island south of Sicily.

“The boats would shipwreck on Lampedusa’s shores and the first migrants would walk barefoot to the road, without even knowing that the place they had reached was an island”, Meli explains.

Riccardo Noury, spokesperson of Italy’s Amnesty International, affirms the European Union hasn’t helped “in any way, unfortunately”. He defines its approach as “systematic closure”, designed to protect the borders of “the European Stronghold”. According to Meli, the Union “doesn’t exist”.

“In the last few months, under the pressure of public opinion and the organisations defending human rights, the European leaders have been forced to do something” Noury goes on, adding that the Union efforts are “absolutely insufficient”. Amnesty International believes that “the posts that the EU has made available for the resettlement of the most vulnerable refugees are very few” and will not fix the problem.

Save The Children, the humanitarian organisation offering first-aid to the youngest and most fragile refugees arrived on the island, is “strongly disappointed” by the Union, and considers the bureaucratic machine “unacceptably slow”. They keep “postponing immediate and concrete measures to solve the crisis”, according to their spokesperson. 

The three institutions agree that the best way to put an end to the crisis is to provide the asylum seekers with a safe and legal way into the EU – through humanitarian corridors, visas, family reunifications and resettlements.

Politics aside, this issue involves people, each with their own story. Antonino Meli remembers the first time he volunteered for the Red Cross: he spent the night at Molo Favaloro – Lampedusa’s pier – where he saw his first boat.

“I remember the cold and the rain, and the migrants on the boat’s prow, chilled to the bone and wet”, but most of all, “that horrible silence in the cold night”. “I wish many politicians could see what I saw”, he adds.

“Molo Favaloro is an extraordinary experience that makes you see pain first-hand and understand the tragedy of these people, who leave everything and invest their life savings in the opportunity to have a better life, for them and their children”.

 – Giulia Poloni, Correspondent (Politics)