Salvini’s Anti-Migrant Policy Puts Italy on Collision Course with the E.U and the U.N
Boats full of refugees entering Italian waters are nothing new, but since the escalation of the conflict in Libya, more migrants are making the journey to southern Italy, with a 15% increase in 2018. This summer, Matteo Salvini, Italian interior minister and leader of Italy’s right-wing party La Lega, wants to put a stop to the country’s relationship with Mediterranean migration.
Italy has been asking other European countries to share the burden of the Mediterranean migrant crisis since the summer of 2017, and since entering office in June 2018, Salvini has made it his priority to show the public his tough anti-immigration position. The new minister has been visiting southern ports like Pozzallo and vowing to send as many as 500,000 undocumented migrants “home”.
The government has set a goal of zero migrant arrivals by sea this summer and this extends to preventing non-govermental organisation (NGO) run rescue boats from docking at Italian ports. According to the new government, 2018 is not just another summer for welcoming arrivals.
The policy was shown to be more than rhetoric when Salvini closed his ports to the migrant rescue ship, The Aquarius, last month. The ship was finally escorted to the Spanish port of Valencia after Italy and Malta refused entry. Representatives onboard from Medecins Sans Frontieres reported on the poor state of people’s physical and mental health – people who had not only been rescued from drowning but had faced days of delays and uncertainties about where they would be going afterwards.
Salvini also stalled the call to accept another 450 migrants rescued by EU ships in the last two weeks. He looked to countries including Malta, Germany, France, Portugal and Spain to each accept a number of those rescued. The two vessels were shut out of the port of Pozzallo until a decision was reached by the other E.U member states. The migrants were allowed to dock this week after the other countries had each agreed to accept their share.
What has become known as Salvini’s ‘redistribution’ deal, not only marks a break with the country’s asylum policy but is also a direct rebuttal of the Dublin Regulation. The treaty is part of E.U membership and stipulates that asylum requests must be processed in the first European state that migrants arrive in. By designating the movement of migrants rescued near Italy to other, further away countries, Salvini is openly disregarding the E.U’s asylum policy. Following the events in Pozzallo, the E.U itself has declared its opposition to Salvini’s “ad hoc solutions” saying they “cannot be sustainable in the long term”.
Human Rights activists and NGO workers alike see Salvini’s policy as a direct human rights violation. By preventing ships from safely docking in Italian ports, or diverting them many miles away to other E.U countries, they believe he further risks the lives of those rescued from sinking rafts through delay, disease and mental anguish on the boats. Representatives from the U.N refugee agency have already commented on the emotional trauma migrants would have experienced from the days of delays outside Pozzallo and en-route to other destinations.
Salvini has declared his long-term goal is for Libya to become safe enough for migrants to return to. He wants the E.U to establish “hotspots” similar to the migrant disembarkation points of Pozzallo and Lampedusa, but in their countries of origin so that their asylum requests can be processed at home. Regardless of whether countries like Libya will be safe for migrants to return to in the near future, it’s clear that Salvini’s actions are currently in conflict with E.U migration policy, member state obligations and international human rights tenets.
Salvini’s policy towards migrants also faces opposition from members of the public, with a campaign established to send 10,000 ‘refugee postcards’ to the interior ministry; however, the new government, which has been described as “an alliance of the far right and populists”, is for the most part forming an internally united front on the issue.
Global Seven News
Written by Annie May Byrne Noonan