Italy's Meloni admits she hoped to do better on migration

Migration continues to be a complex issue for the Italian government

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. Reuters
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Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said on Saturday that she had hoped to do "better" on controlling irregular migration, which has surged since her far-right party won historic elections a year ago.

"Clearly we hoped for better on immigration, where we worked so hard," Ms Meloni admitted to the TG1 channel.

"The results are not what we hoped to see. It is certainly a very complex problem but I'm sure we'll get to the bottom of it."

Ms Meloni's right-wing Brothers of Italy party was elected in large part on a promise to reduce mass migration into Italy.

But the number of people arriving on boats from North Africa has surged, with more than 130,000 recorded by the Interior Ministry so far this year, up from 70,000 in the same period of 2022.

After 8,500 people arrived on the tiny island of Lampedusa in only three days this month, Ms Meloni demanded that the EU do more to help relieve the pressure.

Brussels agreed to increase efforts, and this week said it would start to release money to Tunisia, from which many of the boats leave, under a pact aimed at stemming irregular migration.

But Ms Meloni's main coalition partner, Matteo Salvini of the anti-immigration League party, has been dismissive of EU efforts to manage the surge of arrivals, which he called an "act of war".

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The League this weekend also condemned Germany for funding an NGO conducting at-sea rescues in the Mediterranean, saying it represented "very serious interference" in Italian affairs.

Defence Minister Guido Crosetto, a member of Ms Meloni's party, on Sunday, told La Stampa newspaper the move put Italy "in difficulty".

"If Germany cared about the fate of people in difficulty and really wanted to help us save lives, they could help … to seriously combat criminals who traffic people," he said in a statement on Sunday evening.

Several charity rescue ships operate in the Central Mediterranean, the world's deadliest sea crossing for migrants, although they only pick up about five per cent of arrivals to Italy, Mr Crosetto said.

The German Foreign Office confirmed it was providing between €400,000 ($426,000) and €800,000 each to two projects, "for the support on land in Italy of people rescued at sea and an NGO project for sea-rescue operations".

While interior minister in a previous government in 2019, Mr Salvini blocked several charity ships from landing rescued migrants in Italy, a move that saw him prosecuted in Sicily on charges of kidnapping.

Since taking office in October, Ms Meloni's government has restricted the activities of the ships, which it accuses of encouraging migrants, while vowing to clamp down on people smugglers.

It has also sought to boost repatriation of arrivals ineligible for asylum, including by building detention centres and extending the time migrants can be held there.

It emerged this week it would also be requiring migrants awaiting a decision on asylum to pay a deposit of €5,000 or be sent to a detention centre, prompting accusations that the state was charging "protection money".

The centre-left Democratic Party said last week that "on immigration, the Italian right has failed".

"It continues on a path that is demagogic and consciously cynical, but above all totally ineffective both in the respect and safeguarding of human rights and for the protection of Italy's interests," it said in a note.

The criticism of Germany comes after Berlin temporarily stopped accepting migrants living in Italy, after Rome suspended EU rules governing the distribution of migrants.

Updated: September 24, 2023, 9:31 PM