Italian PM touts importance of national identity while calling for international help on migration

by MMC
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Speaking for the first time before the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni urged its 193 member states to wage a world war against smugglers and declared that Italy would not be transformed into Europe’s refugee camp.

At the same time, she spoke of the human need for identify.

The far-right leader of the Italian coalition government was elected last October on a program promoting so-called Christian European values ​​and promising to defend Italy against the dictates of the European Union and invasions migrants coming from North Africa on boats to Italy.

Since the start of the year, however, some 130,000 people have made the boat crossing from North Africa to Italy – double the number compared to the same period last year – which has prompted Meloni to turn to the EU and the international community for help.

The fight against criminal organizations should be a goal that unites us all, she told the UN, referring to smugglers who transport migrants across the Mediterranean Ocean.

WATCH | A record number of migrants land on an Italian island:

Record number of migrants invade Italian island

This small Italian island is not equipped to deal with the thousands of migrants arriving from North Africa. An estimated 8,000 people flooded Lampedusa last week, doubling the island’s population and straining resources.

Observers believe that Meloni walks a fine line between, on the one hand, advocating nationalism and identity and, on the other, insisting on a multilateral and collective commitment against migratory flows.

She has turned to the UN to try to gain international support on the migration issue, as discussions within the EU have reached an impasse. said Raffele Marchetti, professor of international politics at Luiss University in Rome and author of A handbook of Italian politicsa manual on the country’s foreign policy.

European engagement is, however, crucial on migration issues and, for now, Meloni has stayed away from some of the heavy-handed tactics and escalation used in the past, Marchetti said.

Fighting political challengers

The European elections will take place next June. Outcomes on migration or the economy – with billions in EU post-Covid-19 recovery funds funneled to Italy – will be crucial to Meloni’s political survival.

It could be contested from the right within its own coalition, Marchetti said. But a multitude of other right-wing parties are already campaigning against it, deeming it too lenient on immigration.

Young migrants arriving by boat wait in the streets of Lampedusa, Italy.  (Megan Williams/CBC)

Young migrants arriving by boat wait in the streets of Lampedusa, Italy.

Photo: (Megan Williams/CBC)

In July, Meloni was among the European leaders who pushed hardest for a controversial migration deal with Tunisia, where most boats crossing Italy now depart.

The Tunisian government has repressed human rights and freedom of expression. The country’s economy is in freefall due to drought, corruption and a global surge in food prices.

The deal, similar to a precedent with Libya, will inject the equivalent of C$215 million into the country’s economy in exchange for allowing the Tunisian coast guard to prevent migrant boats from leaving.

Since the agreement was signed in July, boat crossings to Italy have increased by 70 percent.

Landing in Lampedusa

Most arrive on the small island of Lampedusa in southern Italy, which Meloni and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited earlier this week.

Nearly 10,000 migrants crammed into makeshift boats arrived the previous week. The island has a small reception center that can accommodate 400 people, so thousands of people – including women with babies and unaccompanied minors – have been forced to sleep on cots or cardboard boxes in the street and begging for food.

In Lampedusa, the two leaders urged EU member states to respect agreements to share the burden of people crossing the border into Italy, by voluntarily welcoming new arrivals.

Europe’s migrant-sharing programs, dating back to 2015, have mostly failed.

Gérald Darmanin, the interior minister of France, the destination country for many of Italy’s arrivals, said France would help deport people to their countries of origin, but will not be welcome people arriving in Lampedusa, unless they are refugees.

France, like Austria, has decided to tighten its borders with Italy.

Meloni and Von der Leyen also promised that asylum seekers whose applications for refugee status were rejected would be quickly deported.

“It just doesn’t reflect reality.”

On Monday, Meloni’s government announced it would increase the maximum length of migrant detention to 18 months – which critics say is illegal – and step up the repatriation of people whose asylum applications are rejected.

This simply does not reflect reality. said Arturo Salerni, president of the Italian Coalition for Freedom and Civil Rights.

Migrants are seen queuing for services in Lampedusa, Italy.  (Megan Williams/CBC)

Migrants are seen queuing for services in Lampedusa, Italy.

Photo: (Megan Williams/CBC)

He says keeping people in detention centers longer does not increase the chances that their home country will agree to take them back, which is currently less than 50 percent.

For those who do not meet the conditions required to obtain refugee status, repatriations occur within a few weeks or not occur at all, Salerno said. It therefore makes no sense to detain people in detention centers for longer. It costs more and prolongs suffering and isolation. And then people are released, still without a residence permit, and have to fend for themselves in a legal vacuum.

In addition to the thousands who have arrived in Italy this year, more than 2,000 people have died in the central Mediterranean, according to the International Organization for Migration. This includes two babies who died last week.

October 3 marks the 10th anniversary of a shipwreck off Lampedusa that claimed 368 lives, leading to the launch of the EU’s first naval search and rescue mission, Mare Nostrum, which was canceled a year later.

This weekend, Pope Francis will travel to Marseille, France, where he will meet with migrant rescuers and call for solidarity with those who risk their lives at sea to reach Europe.

Megan Williams (new window) · News from Radio-Canada

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