Meloni is a victim of her anti-immigrant rhetoric.

“Migration today is completely independent of who is in power,” says Italian researcher Eugenio Cusumano.

During the election campaign, Italian far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni promised a naval blockade of migrant boats. But never before have so many migrants arrived in Italy as in the first three months of 2023: no less than 27,000. The island of Lampedusa, which is barely 130 kilometers from the Tunisian coast, is witnessing record numbers.

Eugenio Cusumano, professor of political science at the University of Messina, researches the migration crisis. Tunisia is currently not safe for immigrants. Nationalist President Kais Saied has waged a violent campaign against black immigrants,” explains Cusumano. They will threaten Arab and Islamic identity. In addition, many Tunisians are concerned about the political and economic situation in their country.

Can Italy handle this influx?

Eugenio Kusumano: The situation is not yet as difficult as it was at the height of the European refugee crisis, between 2014 and 2016, but it is moving in this direction. We also expect numbers to continue to rise, especially in the summer months.

What can the Georgia Meloni government do about it?

Kusumano: Meloni is trying to Europeanize the crisis, as all previous Italian governments have tried, but to no avail. This time, too, a little solidarity can be expected from other European countries. The Italian government is also pressuring the Tunisian government to accept a loan from the International Monetary Fund. But the Tunisian president is very unpredictable, so Meloni has little leverage.

Dublin is not sustainable for countries like Italy or Greece.

Italy declared a six-month state of emergency.

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Kusumano: In practice this wouldn’t make much difference. The state of emergency is primarily a symbolic measure to show that the government is taking the matter seriously, and is a kind of apology to its constituents. Meloni was elected on a promise to reduce illegal immigration, but is now falling victim to her anti-immigrant rhetoric. For now, her constituents don’t seem to be taking it seriously, but the question is for how long.

Meloni even promised to stop immigrant boats at sea during her campaign.

Kusumano: Totally unrealistic. It also kept repeating that illegal immigration was the fault of previous governments. Today, however, we see that immigration has absolutely nothing to do with those in power. Migration is about push factors, not pull factors like NGO bailouts or lax immigration policies.

Is the Italian call for European solidarity justified, since many migrants are not registered in Italy, do not apply for asylum there, and travel to northern Europe?

Kusumano: Italy is the country of arrival of many immigrants, but most of them actually do not want to stay there. They want to travel to the UK or Northern European countries, where they have family and economic opportunities. Keeping them in Italy against their will, as required by the European Dublin Rules, is highly problematic in terms of human rights. Can you force someone to give their fingerprints, register and claim asylum? Northern European countries are already frustrated by Italy’s unwillingness to cooperate in curbing these so-called secondary movements, but the Dublin Agreement is not sustainable for countries like Italy or Greece. Italy does not have the large concentration camps for asylum seekers as there are in Greece. This makes the system more humane, but it also means that it is difficult to prevent these people from leaving.

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Meloni uses harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric, but sounds less daring than former Interior Minister Matteo Salvini. He has prevented NGO rescue ships from docking.

Kusumano: Meloni learned from Salvini’s mistakes. Despite her wartime rhetoric towards NGOs, she understands that directly confronting and criminalizing NGO rescue workers is counterproductive: great controversy arises at home and abroad, and those NGOs command huge funding and popular support. Meloni was also forced to adjust her policy after the ship sank near Crotone in February. Until then, her government was doing everything not to save people at sea. The Italian coast guard is only dispatched if the migrant boat is really about to sink – by the way, the modus operandi of most European coast guards. Since Crotone and the uproar around it in the Italian public, the Italian Coast Guard has begun to act more proactively.

Megan Vasquez

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