First, the new Italian head of government refused rescued male refugees to go ashore in Italy. Only women and children were allowed to continue. Then she changed course. “Migrants: Meloni gives up,” the headlines of Italian newspapers said. “EU brings the government to its knees” or “Everyone goes ashore in Italy”.
The reason for those headers were the initial refusal of the right-wing nationalist head of government to head sea rescue ships with hundreds of refugees on board for days for an Italian port. She then allowed only minors, women and children ashore. Men had to remain on board – and Meloni’s interior minister, Matteo Piantedosi, called on the countries whose flag the ships sailed to take in those migrants.
But Meloni only followed this populist strategy for three days. A spokeswoman for the EU Commission reminded Italy that the rescue was “both a moral duty and a legal obligation” on the part of the EU states, everyone was allowed to go on land. Other sea rescue ships were also allowed to dock unmolested and let all migrants disembark. But for Meloni the goal was achieved, she had spoken out against Brussels in the dispute over migration. In this way she wants to please her EU-sceptical voters and force concessions – on migration.
The post-fascist also wants support from Brussels for her concept in the fight against illegal migration. She wants to stop migrants in North Africa – deciding on their asylum applications there in so-called hotspots. But little is new about it. As early as 2016, the then Social Democratic Prime Minister Matteo Renzi had proposed outsourcing the asylum procedures to EU-financed reception camps in Africa.
When this proposal didn’t make any headway in Brussels, Renzi implemented part of it himself: His interior minister, Marco Minniti, made a deal with the Libyan coast guard to prevent people from crossing to Italy – sometimes using brutal methods. The number of attempted immigrations to Italian coasts decreased from 181,000 to 23,000 within two years.
After a change of government, the right-wing populist Matteo Salvini took over the Ministry of the Interior and propagated a policy of “closed ports”.
Salvini banned ships with migrants on board from entering the port until other EU countries agreed to take-over the people. Salvini sold the fact that the number of arrivals remained low as his success, although it was a consequence of the Minniti deal.
Salvini’s Lega became the most popular party during this period. Today, however, Salvini is paying the price for his radical strategy: He is being prosecuted for failure to perform official duties and for kidnapping because he kept the migrants on board a ship. Salvini was succeeded at the Interior Ministry by Luciana Lamorgese, a non-partisan expert who embarked on a silent strategy on migration under two pro-EU prime ministers. Lamorgese imposed bureaucratic hurdles on ships and kept them in Italian ports for months.
Only a small proportion of migrants actually remain in Italy. Overall, only 0.2 percent of the Italian population has a recognized right to asylum, in Germany it is 1.5 percent and in Sweden 2.3 percent.
Roughly speaking, pro-European governments discreetly look the other way when the refugees move north, nationalist governments block their ports with a lot of fanfare. In both cases, however, the message to other EU member states like Sweden, France and Germany is the same: if you don’t help us, you’ll quickly have the problem in your country.
Soon Meloni should use this remedy again. Because the ships have already set sail again to pick up migrants and bring them to Italy.
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