Associated Press, September 18, 2023
The Italian government approved new measures to crack down on migration Monday, after the southern island of Lampedusa was again overwhelmed by a wave of arrivals setting off from Tunisia and the migration issue returned to center stage in Europe with talk of a naval blockade.
The measures approved by the Cabinet focused on migrants who don’t qualify for asylum and are slated to be repatriated to their home countries. The government extended the amount of time such people can be detained to the EU maximum of 18 months. It also plans to increase the number of detention centers to hold them, since capacity has always been insufficient and many of those scheduled to be returned home manage to head farther north.
Premier Giorgia Meloni announced the “extraordinary measures” after Lampedusa, which is closer to Tunisia in North Africa than the Italian mainland, was overwhelmed last week by nearly 7,000 migrants in a day, more than the island’s resident population. Italy has been offloading them slowly by ferry to Sicily and other ports, but the arrivals once again stoked tensions on the island and in political corridors, especially ahead of European Parliament elections next year.
Amid the domestic and EU political jockeying, Meloni resurrected campaign calls for a naval blockade of North Africa to prevent human traffickers from launching their smuggling boats into the Mediterranean. Meloni was on hand in Tunis in June when the European Commission president signed an accord with the Tunisian government pledging economic aid in exchange for help preventing departures.
The French government of Emmanuel Macron has shifted right on migration and security issues, and on Monday, his interior minister, Gerald Darmanin, was heading to Rome for meetings. Darmanin said before he left that France would help Italy maintain its border to prevent people from arriving but was not prepared to take in migrants who have arrived in Lampedusa in recent days.
”Things are getting very difficult in Lampedusa. That’s why we should help our Italian friends. But there should not be a message given to people coming on our soil that they are welcomed in our countries no matter what,” he said on France’s Europe-1 radio.