After the Obama administration bombed Libya into a civil war, migrants from there have flooded into Europe. As the maritime neighbor to Libya, Italy has been hit hardest by the wanderers. The result has been to propel EU-skeptic anti-immigration populist parties such as the League into power.
The Italian government has started to crack down on the invasion, but the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) involved have hit back. Recently, the German NGO Sea-Watch docked in Italy’s southernmost port, Lampedusa, without authorization. Upon arrival, the captain of the ship was arrested for human trafficking.
The story being reported in European newspapers is that humanitarians are saving shipwrecked migrants at sea and bringing them to the nearest port as mandated by international treaties. France24 claimed that Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini is obstructing the rule of law.
Shoshana Fine of the European Council on Foreign Relations said that “search and rescue is a question of international maritime law. We’re not speaking about migration governance here, we’re speaking about the right to life.” She added that “the securitization of maritime assistance is very much in a continuum with the securitization of migration, so we’re in a situation where for an asylum seeker to reach Europe he or she basically has to ‘break’ the law.”
Weaponization of Maritime Law
The unreported story is that Sea-Watch has had many opportunities to deliver the “rescued” migrants to other ports of entry. Spain has offered to receive them, but the Sea-Watch ship captain declined. It was vital for her to bring the migrants to Italy, apparently to challenge the politics of the ruling populist coalition.
To some extent Sea-Watch succeeded, because a progressive judge released the captain, ruling that the “rescue” mission was legitimate.
But as we have documented earlier on Liberty Nation, in practice the NGOs are the whitewashing middlemen in a lucrative and cynical human-trafficking operation. They weaponize international maritime law to assist in what amounts to a de facto invasion.
The Australian Solution
Salvini may have the will, but his actions so far show that, as a populist, he lacks the experience of those who have been in the political game for a long time. There already exists a well-tested solution that Italy can adopt, namely Operation Sovereign Borders, which was created by the Australian government in 2013 under conservative rule.
Just like Europe, Australia had a massive problem with asylum seekers trying to cross the ocean on rafts. The solution was to send the unequivocal message that not a single asylum seeker would ever touch the soil of the Australian mainland. Instead, refugees were placed in processing camps in the remote Pacific micronation Nauru. If they fulfilled the requirements of asylum, they were offered a path to citizenship in Papua New Guinea, with which Australia had made a resettlement agreement.
And it worked. In 2015, Minister of Home Affairs Peter Dutton put out a press release stating that Australia had experienced six months without a single successful case of human trafficking.
Although the system has been challenged, it appears to have survived all legal obstacles. Australia has found the recipe for abiding by international agreements while at the same time stopping illegal immigration. Both Italy and the United States should consider adopting this strategy to solve their migration problems.