Italy’s Interior Minister Piantedosi admits: The government has not achieved its objectives on Mediterranean migration. The policy continues to be deadly: The IOM has recorded 2750 missing and drowned people.
Despite a rigid migration defence policy, Italy’s government has not achieved its goals regarding refugees crossing the Mediterranean. This was confirmed by the Minister of the Interior Matteo Piantedosi to the Italian newspaper “La Stampa” on Sunday. According to the report, more than 155,750 migrants reached the country by sea last year, an increase of around half compared to the previous year (103,850).
“The number of arrivals this year certainly does not correspond to the goal of the political measures that the government has initiated in various directions to combat and defeat human trafficking,” the non-party government politician told the newspaper.
According to information from “nd”, most of the migrants arriving in Italy in 2023 came from Guinea, Tunisia, the Ivory Coast, Bangladesh and Egypt. Most departures to Italy last year were from Tunisia (around 100,000). However, after the government there triggered pogroms against African refugees in February and stepped up raids in the port city of Sfax, the main refugee route shifted back to Libya in the summer.
Towards the end of the year, there was a significant increase in departures from Turkey, and the number of boats leaving for Italy from Turkey is currently roughly the same as those from North Africa.
In April, the Italian government declared a six-month “state of crisis” due to the large number of asylum seekers arriving. In the summer, the initial reception centre on the island of Lampedusa was temporarily overcrowded. However, the situation has since eased again. In Lampedusa, the occupancy rate was recently at around one fifth of capacity, in Pozzallo on Sicily at one third and in Taranto in the Apulia region at half. Another reception centre in Messina in north-eastern Sicily with a capacity of 200 people was completely empty.
Restricting undocumented migration across the Mediterranean was a key election promise of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s right-wing alliance, which has been in power since October 2022. To this end, the government issued a decree two months later targeting civilian sea rescue vessels. A law that was later ratified by parliament stipulates that only one rescue must be carried out and then immediately head for a harbour assigned by the authorities. This harbour is often hundreds or even thousands of kilometres away. If captains violate the order, their ship is detained for three weeks. Numerous organisations have already been affected by such a penalty. Most recently, the “Ocean Viking” ship from Médecins Sans Frontières was chained up on Wednesday.
Italy’s Interior Minister Piantedosi emphasised to “La Stampa” that even more people would have arrived on Italy’s shores if the government had not introduced such measures. According to his estimates, 121,883 people had been stopped on their way to Europe and hundreds had been arrested on charges of “smuggling”.
Piantedosi is referring in particular to boat passengers who have been stopped and returned by North African coastguards. Italy has concluded an agreement with Libya that provides for the establishment of a situation centre and the provision of search and rescue vessels. The European Union is financing this infrastructure with almost €60 million from development aid funds, with additional funds, for example for training measures for 500 coastguard personnel to date, coming from other EU programmes.
However, Libya is accused of serious human rights violations, and inmates in detention centres run by militias are exposed to life-threatening conditions. In December, the Council of Europe, to which 46 member states belong, sharply criticised the migration policy of the government in Rome and called for an end to cooperation with Libya and Tunisia. The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic, called on the Italian authorities not to obstruct civilian search and rescue operations and to stop reprisals against the organisations.
Many accidents again occurred in 2023 as people tried to cross the Mediterranean to Italy without a visa and seek asylum there. According to figures from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), at least 2,750 people were missing and presumed dead throughout the Mediterranean last year.
One of the organisations that supports sea rescue in the Mediterranean with an emergency number is the Alarm Phone. According to the network, it handled 1203 cases in the Central Mediterranean alone last year. The relevant national rescue coordination centres are informed of boats in distress according to a set routine. Even the Italian coastguard confirms in an EU working group (PDF) that the Alarm Phone, as well as civilian rescue ships, are important sources of information on boats in distress at sea.
Published in German in „nd“.
Image: Over 120,000 people have been stopped last year like here by the Libyan coastguard on their way to Europe, says the Italian Interior Minister (Sea-Watch, photo from 2021).