Tamas Orban, European Conservative, September 26, 2023
Italian Prime Minister Georgia Meloni has sent a letter to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz stating that she was “astonished” by Berlin’s recently announced initiative to finance pro-migration NGOs operating in the Mediterranean and in southern Italy, accusing him of deepening the crisis instead of cooperating to solve it, Il Giornale reported on Monday, September 25th.
Meloni’s complaint was sent to Berlin after Germany’s social-democratic government announced last Friday that it would finance two NGOs—including the rescue charity SOS Humanity—with up to €790,000 each to continue and expand their work.
Meloni’s letter, dated September 23rd, was made public after Italian Defense Minister Guido Crosetto took a stab at Berlin in an interview published by La Stampa on Sunday, saying that Germany is no longer “a friendly country,” and that its “ideological approach puts us in trouble.”
The PM’s letter to Scholz also makes it clear that Rome considers Berlin’s actions utterly disrespectful:
I have learned with astonishment that your government—in an uncoordinated manner with the Italian government—has reportedly decided to support with substantial funds non-governmental organizations engaged in the reception of irregular migrants on Italian territory and in rescues in the Mediterranean Sea.
Both activities “raise questions,” Meloni added, citing the EU’s border protection agency, Frontex, which has been stressing for some time now that the presence of rescue NGOs on the Mediterranean constitutes a serious “pull factor” to illegal migration. “It’s widely known,” Meloni wrote, that these NGOs are “multiplying the departures of precarious boats that result not only in additional burden on Italy, but at the same time increases the risk of new tragedies at sea.”
Although these NGOs consistently deny that their operations would encourage illegal migration, there’s compelling evidence to support Frontex’s assessment. In the past years, the German Gefira Foundation observed at least nine of these NGOs—mostly financed by the Soros’ Open Society Foundations, among others—frequently picking up migrants right after they leave the Libyan coast and ferrying them straight to Europe.
Furthermore, Meloni added that German funds for NGOs that help at the reception centers on land—and are often accused of instructing migrants how to deceive authorities and take advantage of the European asylum laws—are not welcome either. If this work is so expensive, the prime minister suggested to Scholz, “it is legitimate to ask whether it does not deserve to be facilitated on German territory rather than in Italy.”
The German decision to finance such groups is not the first disappointment Rome had to suffer in relation to the current crisis, as Italian officials, including Defense Minister Crosetto, have been criticizing neighboring countries (such as France, Austria, and Switzerland) for closing their borders instead of sending help.
Germany doesn’t have a direct border with Italy, but it also managed to draw contempt from Rome early on after it suspended voluntary migrant relocations from the country due to the high amount of irregular arrivals it faces. Berlin’s reasoning that it registered some 15,000 illegal entries just in August hardly changed Rome’s perceptions, as over 133,000 migrants landed in Italy this year, twice as many as in the same period in 2022.
“Faced with our request for help, this is their response?” Crosetto snapped in the interview. “We did not behave in the same way when Angela Merkel convinced the EU to invest billions of euros in Turkey to stop migrants coming to Germany from the Middle East.”
Meloni also brought up the migration deal with Turkey, but as a positive example for Germany to follow instead of facilitating illegal entries. According to the Italian PM, European countries should focus on “finding structural solutions to the migrations phenomenon” primarily by cooperating with transit countries in North Africa and striking similar agreements that would cost even less than the one with Ankara.
As for more immediate solutions, the Meloni government signed off on a series of new measures last week in an attempt to deter migrants, including lengthening the detention period, increasing the number of detention centers, and making migrants pay if they want to leave these facilities before their asylum claims have been processed.
In turn, a German government spokesman promised on Monday that “the letter will be answered.” The spokesman refused to elaborate on what Scholz’s answer might be, and only repeated the foreign ministry’s position on rescue operations at sea, which are a “legal, humanitarian, and moral duty” of Europe.