EU's Frontex to take lead from Italy in Mediterranean immigration crisis

By Andrew Frye

he European Union will take the lead in the Mediterranean Sea’s immigration crisis, relieving the Italian navy of primary responsibility for patrolling the waters and rescuing migrant boats in distress.

The EU will take charge through its Frontex border management agency, which is currently in talks with the Italian government “and finalizing the last details” of the new program, European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said at a press conference today in Brussels after meeting with Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano. All EU member states are prepared to contribute to the effort, Malmstroem said.

Italy spends about 9 million euros ($12 million) a month covering the sea separating North Africa from the Italian islands of Sicily and Lampedusa. The rescue program, known as Mare Nostrum, was created in October to intercept and aid overcrowded migrant boats as unrest in Libya and Syria boosted the flow of refugees. The Navy had rescued 275 boats through Aug. 21, it said by e-mail.

“The foundation has been set to move beyond Mare Nostrum,” Alfano said at the press conference. Malmstroem said the EU targets to start Frontex operations from the end of November.

Italy has been pressing for more EU support for the effort. More than 108,000 migrants have arrived in Italy by sea this year, compared with 14,800 who have reached Greece and 1,100 who have landed in Spain, according to the UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency in Geneva.

More than 1,800 people have died this year making the Mediterranean passage from Africa to Europe, the UNHCR said in a statement this week. The main departure point is Libya, it said.