The Mediterranean Sea, cradle of our civilization, is becoming a deathbed for thousands of nameless, desperate men, women and children. These people had lives full of pain, despair and hope, which led them to become victims of human trafficking. The voices of mothers who lost their children at sea will haunt our consciences. We must stop this carnage.
After the latest incident — more than 800 migrants traveling between Libya and Italy perished last weekend after their boat capsized — European leaders, who are convening Thursday at my request, must revamp our response to the increase in illegal migration and human trafficking across Africa and the Mediterranean before the next tragedy.
Italy’s geopolitical role and location make our country a leading player in this struggle. Our rescue and patrolling efforts have saved thousands of lives. We witness the horror of overcrowded and decrepit trafficking vessels sinking in the Mediterranean, drowning their passengers. And these boats represent only the end point of massive illegal migration flows that are run by brutal organized crime networks.
Italy’s contempt for this unfolding drama goes beyond our role in operations. Human trafficking tramples on the values and riches that our sea has contributed to civilization. Millenniums ago, our ancestors lived along these shores, celebrating the diversity, richness and fullness of their identities. Italy and its culture are largely the product of these values and of the labor they spurred.
My country will not turn a blind eye to this history. Italy will not allow these principles to be defeated.
We are all partially responsible for the trafficking emergency — although I have long voiced my concerns, aware of the risk of the very bloodshed we are now witnessing. The international community’s response has been insufficient.
The European Union spends approximately 40 million euros yearly (about $43 million) — out of a budget of around €145 billion — on the Triton operation for sea and air patrolling of the Mediterranean. This is dramatically inadequate. The European Union must start by allocating the appropriate resources.
Italy is not the desired final destination for most migrants, but we contribute a very large portion of the European search-and-rescue and patrolling efforts as well as resources to provide food, medical care and initial shelter. Italy has engaged its full capacity. This cannot be the job of a single country, no matter how well-equipped and determined we are.
The European Union’s contribution is of fundamental importance, but it is also insufficient. The Union should not be left alone by other countries and international bodies in its effort to manage this defining phenomenon of our time. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said earlier this week, “The Mediterranean is fast becoming a sea of misery for thousands of migrants.” Migration involves us all and we must all contribute to address it.
Italy supports the following proposals, which I encourage the European Council to approve on Thursday, with a view toward swift implementation.
•Current maritime operations by the European Union in the Mediterranean must be reinforced by at least doubling their resources and assets. We must extend their range of action beyond patrolling and border control, to a wider range of tasks allowing them to carry out a more effective mandate.
•European Union naval operations in the Horn of Africa have successfully fought piracy — and a similar initiative must be developed to effectively fight against human trafficking in the Mediterranean. Trafficking vessels should be put out of operation. Human traffickers are the slave traders of the 21st century, and they should be brought to justice.
•We need new tools, as well as additional funds, for effective coordination among Union member states and agencies for responding to asylum seekers, sheltering those in need and returning irregular migrants. We need more international officials on the ground in Africa dealing directly with migration issues. And we need to be able to effectively transfer asylum seekers from one European Union country to another, based on where they can get the best protection.
The root causes for hundreds of thousands of people to desperately seek a better life, at the risk of the one they have, must be tackled more forcefully. While Africa is increasingly offering its people more opportunities, it is also posing new challenges. Conflict, failed states and epidemics still represent major threats.
Advanced economies, starting with the European Union, must invest more, both in political and in economic terms, in the growth, development and stability of the African continent. Africa’s future ultimately represents our own.
In a very complex region, Libya presents a crucial challenge. At least 90 percent of the migrants reaching Italian ground pass through that country. Libya is prey not only to endemic instability but also to international terrorism. The Islamic State operates there, adding to the chaos of civil war.
Not all passengers on traffickers’ boats are innocent families. Our effort to counter terrorism in North Africa must evolve to outpace this menace, which creates fertile ground for human trafficking and interacts dangerously with it. We need to continue political and diplomatic efforts for the reconstruction of Libya.
In parallel, I have increased consultations and collaboration with Italy’s allies, most recently on the occasion of my meeting in Washington with President Obama, in order to devise an effective counterterrorism response.
We will not be cornered by fear. Our path toward prosperity, justice and freedom will continue, guided by the light of the values that the Mediterranean gave birth to, for the benefit of all the people coming in peace to all the shores of our sea.
Matteo Renzi is the prime minister of Italy.