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The German government has suspended a voluntary agreement with Italy to take in migrants, accusing Rome of failing to live up to its obligations under the EU’s Dublin rules on asylum.
As part of an EU scheme known as the voluntary solidarity mechanism, Germany pledged to take in 3,500 asylum seekers from countries on the bloc’s external borders that have been hardest hit by the most recent wave of migration. So far, Germany has accepted more than 1,700 people under the scheme, which was launched last June.
But Berlin has now stopped the transfers, citing Italy’s failure to honour its obligations under the EU’s Dublin rules, which stipulate that migrants’ asylum claims must be assessed in the European country in which they first arrive, not where they end up.
However, critics, including some within the Italian government, say the rules put undue pressure on Italy and other Mediterranean countries that are on the front line of the migration crisis.
More than 123,800 irregular migrants and asylum seekers have reached Italy by boat so far this year, compared with around 65,500 for the same period last year. About 5,000 people travelling in more than 100 boats arrived on the island of Lampedusa on Tuesday, Italian authorities said.
The surge is a political embarrassment for Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni, who came to power after elections a year ago promising robust efforts to curb the inflows, even through the imposition of a naval blockade.
Meloni has appealed to other European members to do more to help accommodate them, but her demands — and treatment of some migrants — have caused friction with other EU governments. Italy and France became embroiled in a diplomatic spat late last year over Rome’s refusal to allow a French charity ship carrying 234 migrants rescued from the Mediterranean to dock. The passengers were eventually taken to France.
Italy has been accused by other EU countries of tacitly permitting irregular migrants that land on its shores to travel to other European countries without processing their asylum claims. Countries such as Germany can use such breaches of the Dublin rules to return migrants to their country of arrival.
A spokesperson for Berlin’s interior ministry said that in view of the large numbers of migrants currently entering Germany, the refusal of certain countries such as Italy to accept returned asylum-seekers under the Dublin rules “exacerbates the huge challenges Germany faces in terms of its capacities to take in and accommodate [refugees]”.
He said Italy was informed at the end of August that the next interview mission in Italy, held as part of the solidarity mechanism, would be postponed indefinitely. He added that Berlin would still allow asylum-seekers that had already been interviewed to enter Germany.
Germany has seen a big rise in refugee numbers, putting increasing pressure on municipal services. Authorities recorded 205,000 asylum applications this year to the end of August, an increase of 77 per cent on the same period last year.
The newcomers are in addition to the 1.1mn Ukrainian refugees who have found a safe haven in Germany since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine more than 18 months ago.
However, the figure is much less than the 722,000 applications in the whole of 2016, as conflicts in countries such as Afghanistan and Syria sparked a migration crisis in Europe.
There is a growing suspicion that Russia could be to some degree causing the latest surge in migration. German investigators say migrants are increasingly arriving in Germany having travelled via Moscow.
“Illegal migration via the Russian Federation and from there via Belarus into the EU now represents an additional flashpoint for border police forces,” the Bundespolizei, the German federal police, told the Süddeutsche Zeitung paper.