The Minister of State for Europe at the Federal Foreign Office Michael Roth and Aydan Özoguz, Federal Government Commissioner for Migration, Refugees and Integration, travelled to Italy for talks on 27 July. At the invitation of the Italian Secretary of State for European Affairs Sandro Gozi, they visited refugee shelters in Catania, Sicily, and held discussions with representatives from the municipality and civil society. The itinerary also included a visit to the German frigate Schleswig-Holstein, which is lying at anchor in the harbour of Augusta. At the end of his trip to Italy on Tuesday, Roth gave a speech about the future of Europe in Rome.
“The lives lost in the Mediterranean concern us all”
Sicily remains the focal point of arrival for refugees fleeing across Mediterranean. The authorities estimate that around 200,000 refugees will reach Italy’s shores in 2015. The System for the Protection of Asylum Seekers and Refugees (SPRAR), which offers approximately 20,000 places nationwide, seeks to provide refugees with accommodation in smaller housing units upon leaving reception camps.
The two Ministers of State Özoguz and Roth visited two shared apartments in Catania and to talk to refugees from Eritrea, the Gambia and the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire about their flight and their expectations. A subsequent visit to the graves of drowned refugees at the municipal cemetery brought home once again the level of desperation that drives many families to flee to Europe via this dangerous route. “If 90 per cent of the refugees coming by boat from Libya arrive in Italy, then this is not only something for Italy to deal with, but is a task for Europe as a whole. The lives lost in the Mediterranean concern us all; this is a European tragedy”, said Minister of State for Europe Roth after their visit.
The solidarity shown by so many Sicilians was highlighted at a panel discussion with civil‑society and municipal actors. Volunteers taking part in a range of projects are not only trying to ensure that the refugees receive basic necessities, but that they are also given practical help for their stay in Italy. Representatives from Sant’Egidio presented a successful project that aims to bring refugees into contact with lonely, mostly elderly Italians and to promote dialogue between them. The volunteers said that many refugees suffer during long phases of inactivity and are pleased to assume social tasks.
Visit to the frigate Schleswig-Holstein
The German frigate Schleswig-Holstein and the tender Werra are two German ships that are helping to save refugees from the Mediterranean as part of the European mission EUNAVOR MED. Since May 2015 some 6,000 refugees have been saved from drowning from boats that were mostly no longer able to manoeuvre.
At the end of his visit on board the frigate, Roth once again called for there to be a division of tasks based on the principle of solidarity in the EU’s refugee policy:
Saving human lives must be the highest priority for all of us. It is simply not compatible with our European values to let thousands of people drown before our very eyes. Our efforts must go far beyond marine rescue operations and fighting gangs of human smugglers, however.
We need a common refugee policy based on the principle of solidarity that addresses the causes of flight in the countries of origin and helps to improve living conditions there. We have to combat the causes of flight and not the refugees! And I hope that we will find a way in the EU to distribute those seeking refuge that is also based on the principle of solidarity.