Italian PM calls for EU body to co-ordinate migrant arrivals

Italy has asked the European Commission to set up an agency to oversee the distribution of migrants rescued in the Mediterranean, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Thursday.

Government says it's bearing unfair burden within EU for dealing with asylum seekers

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has written to the European Commission asking it to set up a crisis committee 'which can then mediate with the various governments' on the distribution of migrants. (Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters)

Italy has asked the European Commission to set up an agency to oversee the distribution of migrants rescued in the Mediterranean, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Thursday.

The new Italian government is looking to limit the number of migrants it lets into the country and has shut its ports to humanitarian rescue ships, saying it is bearing an unfair burden within the European Union for dealing with asylum seekers. 

On Sunday, Rome allowed some 450 migrants to disembark in Sicily, but only after Germany, France, Malta, Spain, Portugal and Ireland had agreed to take in many of the newcomers — the first time such an ad hoc deal was struck between EU partners.

"What happened on Sunday should become the norm," Conte told Il Fatto Quotidiano newspaper, adding that he had written to the European Commission asking it to set up a crisis committee "which can then mediate with the various governments."

The United Nations on Thursday welcomed the weekend move to send the latest batch of migrants to various countries, saying it set a "positive example" of how the EU could manage its borders.

"However, solutions are needed that go beyond piecemeal or 'ship-by-ship' arrangements," said Filippo Grandi, head of the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, calling on EU leaders to make good on promises to be more collaborative.

Migrants stand on the deck of MV Aquarius, a search and rescue ship run in partnership between SOS Méditerranée and Doctors Without Borders, on their way to Spain in June after Italy refused them entry. (Karpov/SOS Méditerranée/Reuters)

Hungary refuses to accept migrants

Some EU countries, such as Hungary and the Czech Republic, have refused to let in migrants.

The European Commission said on Thursday it had decided to refer Hungary to the EU Court of Justice for failing to respect EU immigration and asylum rules.

The commission said that it is also opening a new infringement procedure against Hungary because of recently approved legislation criminalizing the support of asylum seekers by civic groups. 

In the first case, which has been ongoing since December 2015, the commission said it was turning to the courts, the last stage of the procedure, because it considered that "the majority of the concerns raised have still not been addressed." Among other points, the EU considers Hungary's asylum procedures too restrictive, with reception conditions for asylum seekers also seen breaching EU rules. 

Conte said he was trying to persuade both Budapest and Prague to do more to tackle the migration issue.

"I am trying to convince them ... that even they, who do not border the Mediterranean, are not immune to this problem."

Italy has seen more than 650,000 migrants reach its shores since 2014. However, numbers have fallen off sharply over the past year, with Italy putting pressure on Libya to do more to halt the exodus from its shores. 

With files from The Associated Press