Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte with Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio | Photo: ANSA/Maurizio Brambatti
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte with Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio | Photo: ANSA/Maurizio Brambatti

In its first high-level meeting on the issue of migration, the new Italian government focused on a new policy line; that aims to increase the relocation of migrants across the EU and calls for new agreements for the repatriation and redistribution across the bloc of those landing on Italy's shores.

The new Italian government, which was sworn in last week, intends to aim for greater effectiveness, relocation of migrants and repatriation agreements when it comes to migration policy. The first high-level meeting of the new government was held on Thursday morning and revolved around the issue of migrant landings. 

In the last administration under Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, which was an alliance of the anti-migrant northern League and the Five Star Movement (M5S), migration policy was pushed by former Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini. It focused on taking a hard line and attempting to keep ports closed in order to force Europe to redistribute those who land in Italy around the bloc. Salvini though pulled the plug on August 8 and a new coaltion between the Democratic Party (PD) and M5S took its place.

Conte said last week that the immigration issue "must be managed at a European level and the Dublin regulation must be modified." He added that the government would change Salvini's controversial migrant and security decrees in the light of the "observations" of President Sergio Mattarella, who questioned the principle of one-million euro fines for NGO ships defying entry bans, and recalled Italy's duty to uphold treaties on sea rescues. 

Quicker disembarkation

In Thursday's meeting, the new government decided that women, children and those suffering from health problems must be immediately disembarked from any ship carrying migrants rescued at sea and that rapid procedures must be employed for the other migrants through redistribution agreements with European countries. 

According to Italian government sources, Conte is still adamant that migration issues must be dealt with in a "rigorous" manner but that a "human" approach should be maintained. The prime minister said that the time has come to engage in "less propaganda" and to focus on actual achievements. In fact, while a great deal of attention has been given to the stand-offs between rescue ships and authorization to land in either Italy or Malta, small boats have continued to arrive, and land, on Italian shores.

A new departure or holding the previous course?

The M5S party continues to hold to the migration policy of the former government, in which it was also a partner. It has stated that it doesn't intend to back down from the government's rejection of open ports and indiscriminate reception. But their policy will need to be reconciled with other more lenient members of the new government coalition. What is clear is that, for now, all sides have agreed that the scenes of refugees stranded at sea for weeks must not be allowed to happen again.

The Italian government is hoping to work out a mechanism through which redistribution to other European countries is quicker. Sources from the PD, also in the new government coalition, said that women, children and the sick will be disembarked immediately and that other migrants must be assured of relocation prior to disembarkation. 

The cabinet has not yet discussed potential changes to the controversial security decree brought in to law in Autumn 2018. At the moment, the government's focus in on relocation in the light of the assurances that Conte was reportedly given by the EU on Wednesday in Brussels. 

PD sources told ANSA that it was a matter of action at the political level, over the short and long term, to achieve an almost automatic mechanism. Changing the Dublin accords, as Italy has long pushed for, will take longer. The government also hopes to push for an EU wide repatriation policy with various African countries rather than attempting to make agreements at the bilateral national level. 

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