Nick Squires, The Telegraph, August 15, 2023
The Italian government has been accused of failing to keep its promises to stop migrant boats arriving after the number of asylum seekers reaching the country so far this year hit 100,000.
Giorgia Meloni’s hard-Right government came to power in part on the strength of pledges to crack down on people traffickers, restrict the activities of NGO rescue vessels and staunch the flow of migrants coming from North Africa.
But that rhetoric has fallen far short of reality, and the total number of arrivals this year is more than double the 48,000 who arrived in the same period last year.
With weeks of good sailing weather and calm sea conditions ahead, the number of arrivals this year could begin to approach the all-time record, when 180,000 migrants and refugees reached Italy in 2016.
The country is struggling to feed and accommodate 130,000 migrants, with the system on the brink of “implosion”, as one newspaper put it on Tuesday.
At least 2,000 migrants have lost their lives at sea this year, although the number may be higher – the lack of rescue vessels in the Mediterranean means boats may have capsized without any witnesses.
Ms Meloni was elected prime minister last autumn but has so far failed to reduce the number of migrant arrivals, as many governments before hers also failed to do.
Opposition MPs have been quick to point out the gap between the hardline pledges made by Ms Meloni on the campaign trail and her inability to resolve the crisis now she is in power.
They also criticised Matteo Salvini, the head of the hardline League party, who is the transport minister and deputy prime minister.
“For years [when they were in opposition], Meloni and Salvini taunted us every summer for the number of migrant arrivals,” said Giuseppe Conte, a former prime minister and the leader of the centrist Five Star Movement. “Now that arrivals have doubled they try to divert attention, pretending not to see.”
The Italian government has called for other EU countries to take quotas of migrants for resettlement, but Ms Meloni is close to the leaders of Poland and Hungary – who are opposed to the idea – which amounts to a stark “contradiction”, said Mr Conte.
“Meloni prioritises her friendship with her Polish and Hungarian friends, but they don’t want to hear anything said about the redistribution plan that she is trying to promote,” he said. “And repatriations are not working. She has no vision.”
Stefano Bonaccini, a senior politician in the opposition Democratic Party and the governor of the northern region of Emilia Romagna, accused the government of a “manifest failure” to stop the boats arriving across the Mediterranean.
“They’re always shouting about ‘close the ports’ and ‘the gravy train for migrants is over’ and ‘Italians first’, but the Right is demonstrating a manifest failure in its management of immigration,” he said.
Politicians on the Right are also sounding the alarm. Luca Zaia, a heavyweight member of the League party and the governor of the northern Veneto region, which includes Venice, said he was deeply concerned about the surge in crossings, adding: “I’m seeing worrying numbers. Veneto is already hosting 9,000 migrants.”