On 2 July, European ministers and the European Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs held emergency talks in Paris after speculations that the Italian Government was considering closing its ports to boats carrying migrants. During the talks the Ministers of Interior of France, Germany and Italy and the European Commissioner discussed “the challenges posed by the increased migratory flow on the Central Mediterranean route”. In a press release the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi described the situation in Italy as “an unfolding tragedy”, further urging the European Union for greater solidarity with Italy and calling for a “comprehensive regional approach”.


“Italy is playing its part in receiving those rescued and providing asylum to those in need of protection. These efforts must be continued and strengthened. But this cannot be an Italian problem alone.” quote from press release Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees


The talks resulted in a joint declaration, the countries expressing strong solidarity with Italy, agreeing to provide increased support to Italy and contribute to ‘stem’ the migratory flow and agree to a number of measures. The declaration indicated support for policies and measures that focus on the origin of the migratory flow specifically collaboration with Libya. Specifically, the declaration makes a commitment to improve the standards of immigration detention centres in Libya, to reinforce border controls in Southern Libya (which may result in more use of detention) and utilise the European Union (EU) returns policy, which may result in more use of immigration detention.


Following the discussion with the European minister and the European Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs, the European Commission proposed an Action Plan to support Italy, reduce pressure and increase solidarity. The Action Plan set out a series of measures that can be taken by the EU Member States, the Commission and EU Agencies and reiterated the need to support Libya.


“The dire situation in the Mediterranean is neither a new nor a passing reality. We have made enormous progress over the past two and half years towards a genuine EU migration policy but the urgency of the situation now requires us to seriously accelerate our collective work and not leave Italy on its own. The focus of our efforts has to be on solidarity – with those fleeing war and persecution and with our Member States under the most pressure. At the same time, we need to act, in support of Libya, to fight smugglers and enhance border control to reduce the number of people taking hazardous journeys to Europe.” – quote from press release European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker


The Action Plan recommended Italy to increase “reception capacity and substantially increasing detention capacity to reach at least 3,000 urgently” and prolong the maximum duration of detention in line with EU law as well as increasing the existing capacity of stationary hotspots. Further recommending improved coordination of Search and Rescue activities (SAR) in Libya; establishment of a fully operational Maritime Rescue and Coordination Centre (MRCC) and set up actions to enhance the capacity of Libyan to control borders.

The use of immigration detention to reduce migratory flow and as a form of deterrence can be ineffective at reducing or deterring irregular migration. Detention is arbitrary and unlawful if applied for the purposes of deterrence (IDC 2015, p. 3). There is no empirical evidence to suggest that the threat of being detained deters irregular migration, or more specifically, discourages persons from seeking asylum. Subsequently restrictive measures can introduce greater risks, rechanneling flows of migrants, forcing migrants to seek assistance from people smugglers and undertake more dangerous journeys.

There are alternatives to detention (ATD) that provide effective, humane and less costly migration management options. Italy is yet to develop ATD as required by EU and International law. The IDC’s handbook There Are Alternatives identifies examples of alternatives to detention being used worldwide.


Find out more

  • New Law Prevents Child Detention in Italy Despite Expansion of Detention Centres https://idcoalition.org/news/italy-child-detention-law-change/
  • Article Italy boats block – https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/28/italy-considers-closing-its-ports-to-ships-from-libya#img-1
  • IDC Detention Deterrence – https://idcoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Briefing-Paper_Does-Detention-Deter_April-2015-A4_web.pdf
  • UN High Commissioner for Refugees Press release – http://www.unhcr.org/news/press/2017/7/5957c2304/high-commissioner-grandi-urges-solidarity-italy.html
  • Interior minister and commissioner statement http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_STATEMENT-17-1876_en.htm
  • EU Commission press release – http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-17-1882_en.htm
  • Action Plan https://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/sites/homeaffairs/files/what-we-do/policies/european-agenda-migration/20170704_action_plan_on_the_central_mediterranean_route_en.pdf
  • Alternatives to detention – https://idcoalition.org/alternatives-to-detention/