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The European Union will collapse unless it changes its course on migration, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told a televised press conference after meeting with European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos here on Monday.

The meeting took place against the backdrop of the latest tug-of-war over migrants, which saw Europe refuse access to 49 rescued men, women and children aboard two German NGO vessels for three weeks, and on the eve of Conte’s Jan. 15-16 mission to Niger and Chad, which are countries of transit for migrants from sub-Saharan Africa who entrust their lives to human traffickers in hopes of reaching Europe.

“I expressed to the commissioner the risk that Europe could collapse because the immigration issue is a defining part of the European structure,” Conte told reporters at the press conference.

“If we continue wasting time, if we continue allowing individual countries to deal with immigration on the basis of national interests without a real, shared mechanism for the management (of migration) on a structural as opposed to an emergency basis, we risk toppling the European structure,” the Italian prime minister warned.

“I also reiterated that it is unthinkable to manage this issue in terms other than ones of reciprocity,” Conte continued in reference to the 2015 EU migrant relocation scheme, which calls for each EU member state to take in a certain quota of asylum seekers, but which several countries have refused to apply.

“I will be in Chad and Niger, where I will continue the work I undertook in the past (with missions to) Tunisia, Algeria, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Libya because we believe the immigration phenomenon must be dealt with where the migration flows begin,” Conte said.

“We will continue to fight … the illegal trafficking in human lives,” Conte concluded.

Avramopoulos also met with Italian Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, whose right-wing, anti-immigrant League party is currently polling at number one in the country with around 30 percent, and who has banned NGO vessels carrying rescued migrants from Italy’s ports.

Salvini last week reluctantly agreed to take in some of the 49 migrants and asylum seekers who had been stranded aboard the two German NGO vessels since they were rescued in the Mediterranean before Christmas, after Avramopolous announced a deal had been reached for them to be distributed among Germany, France, Portugal, Malta, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Italy, Romania and Ireland.

Salvini told reporters he was “satisfied with (Avramopoulos’) words” and that “now we are waiting for the facts”.

“I handed him a list of 670 people who could potentially be relocated from Italy this very afternoon,” said Salvini, adding that 2019 is “off to a good start” because it is “the first and only year in which there have been more expulsions than arrivals: as of today, there have been 53 arrivals (against 840 last year) and 73 expulsions.”

“Constructive meeting with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte in Rome today,” Avramopoulos tweeted after his meeting with the two Italian leaders.

“Europe stands by Italy to address this challenge together … We share the same EU migration priorities: further protecting external borders, cooperating with third countries to stem irregular migration and increasing returns, but also setting up a European solidarity mechanism,” the EU commissioner explained.

A total of 116,674 people reached Europe via the Mediterranean in 2018, a return to pre-2014 levels. Meanswhile, one life was lost for every 50 people who attempted the journey, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said in a statement last week. Enditem

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