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ROME — The Italian government on Monday approved new measures to combat immigration, after the southern island of Lampedusa was again overwhelmed by a wave of arrivals from Tunisia and the migration issue returned to the spotlight. front of the stage in Europe with discussions on a naval blockade.
The measures approved by the Cabinet focused on migrants who do not qualify for asylum and who should be repatriated to their countries of origin. The government has extended the period of detention of these people to the maximum period of 18 months stipulated by the EU. It also plans to increase the number of detention centers to accommodate them, as capacity has historically been insufficient and many of those expected to be sent home manage to head further north.
Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni announced “extraordinary measures” after Lampedusa, closer to Tunisia in North Africa than to the Italian mainland, was overwhelmed last week by nearly 7,000 migrants in one day, more than the resident population of the island. Italy is slowly unloading them by ferry to Sicily and other ports, but the arrivals have once again stoked tensions on the island and in political corridors, particularly in the run-up to elections to the European Parliament in next year.
Amid domestic and European political wrangling, Meloni revived his campaign for a naval blockade of North Africa to prevent human traffickers from launching their smuggling boats into the Mediterranean. Meloni was present in Tunis in June when the president of the European Commission signed an agreement with the Tunisian government promising economic aid in exchange for help preventing departures.
A similar deal was signed years ago with Libya, but human rights groups called it a violation of international maritime law, insisting Libya is not a port safe and that migrants intercepted by the Libyan coast guard are returned to detention centers where abuses are committed. widespread.
Meloni visited Lampedusa on Sunday with Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who took a hard line cheered by Meloni’s supporters.
“We will decide who comes to the European Union and under what circumstances. Not the smugglers,” Von der Leyen said as he presented a 10-point plan that included a pledge to support the prevention of smuggling boat departures by establishing “a operational plan. “anti-smuggling partnerships” with countries of origin and transit.
The plan envisages a possible “working agreement between Tunisia and Frontex”, the EU border force with air and maritime assets which currently assists search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean, and a coordination task force within from Europol.
The Commission does not rule out the possibility that a naval blockade could be considered. “We have expressed our support for exploring these possibilities” raised by Italy, Commission spokesperson Anitta Hipper said on Monday.
As part of the agreement signed by von der Leyen with Tunisia, the EU committed to providing funds for equipment, training and technical support “to further improve the management of Tunisia’s borders.” . These funds help, for example, to finance the renovation of 17 ships belonging to the Tunisian authorities.
This latest influx calls into question the unity within the EU, its member states and also Meloni’s far-right government, particularly in the run-up to the European elections. Some member countries have objected to the way von der Leyen pushed through the Tunisian plan and complain that they were not properly consulted.
But even in Italy it is controversial. Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, head of the right-wing Populist League, challenged the effectiveness of Meloni’s EU-Tunisia deal and hosted French right-wing leader Marine Le Pen on Sunday at an annual gathering of the League in northern Italy. A few days earlier, Le Pen’s niece and far-right politician, Marion Maréchal, was in Lampedusa to criticize the French government’s response to the migration issue.
Emmanuel Macron’s French government has shifted to the right on migration and security issues, and on Monday his interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, was traveling to Rome for meetings. Darmanin said before his departure that France would help Italy maintain its border to stop people arriving, but that it was not ready to welcome the migrants who had arrived in Lampedusa in recent days.
“Things are getting very difficult in Lampedusa. This is why we should help our Italian friends. But we must not let people who come to our soil know that they are welcome in our countries whatever happens,” he told French radio Europe-1.
“Our desire is to fully welcome those who should be, but we absolutely must send back those who have no reason to be in Europe,” he said, citing people arriving from Ivory Coast. , from Guinea or Gambia, claiming that there is no evidence. political reason to grant them asylum.