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Why European Tension Is Rising Over Migrants (Again)

he refugee ship that sparked a mighty migration row.

he refugee ship that sparked a mighty migration row.

Photographer: Pau Barrena/AFP via Getty Images

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Migrants arriving on Europe’s shores are stoking political tensions once again, three years after a surge of refugees threatened to overwhelm the European Union. Although the number of arrivals across the Mediterranean Sea is just a fraction of what it was in 2015, EU leaders are urgently revamping the bloc’s asylum system. It’s a challenge that German Chancellor Angela Merkel describes as a "litmus test" for the future of European unity.

Anti-immigration political parties across the bloc have surged in popularity, emboldening the push for change. The new populist Italian government came to power arguing that Italians unfairly bear the brunt of the influx -- and their EU neighbors should shoulder more of the burden. The anti-immigrant firebrand Matteo Salvini, Italy’s interior minister, refused to allow rescue ships carrying migrants and refugees to dock in Sicily on two separate occasions. Spain and Malta stepped in to offer shelter. Most migrants from Africa land in Italy, arriving via human-trafficking networks in overcrowded vessels from a lawless Libya. Italy estimates that it spent 4.3 billion euros ($5 billion) on migrants in 2017, while receiving only 77 million euros in EU aid.