The Maltese interior minister is worried that the number of migrants and refugees arriving on the island could spike soon. That's because the new Italian government is expected to follow a hardline anti-migration policy, following the election victory of the far-right Brothers of Italy.
The Maltese government is worried that a new Italian government could lead to a stark increase in migrant and refugee arrivals on the small island country.
"Italy will probably start experimenting a political change on this important issue since the beginning of the new legislature," Maltese Interior Minister Byron Camilleri told the Times of Malta on Monday (September 26), after the first results from the national election in Italy were announced.
Stressing that "Malta and Italy share the same challenges in the central Mediterranean," Camilleri warned that "it isn't possible to deal with these challenges if we don't work together." Camilleri added that "common efforts must the carried out as part of our adhesion to the European Union, as well as in our relations with neighboring countries like Libya and Tunisia."
Victory for anti-migration politicians in Italian election
Giorgia Meloni's Brothers of Italy party won the largest share of Italy's vote on Sunday. Meloni had campaigned on a staunchly anti-migration platform, pledging to stop all migrant landings in Italy. Together with the far-right League and center-right Forza parties, her Brothers of Italy collected roughly 44% of the vote. The three parties are expected to form a right-wing coalition government.
Both Italy and Malta are located across northern African countries Libya and Tunisia in the Central Mediterranean. At the moment, most people rescued in the Central Mediterranean are allowed to disembark in Italy.
Malta accused of pushbacks, ignoring pleas for help
NGOs have repeatedly criticized Maltese authorities for ignoring pleas from rescue ships for a safe port of disembarkation and also accused them of carrying out pushbacks. Reception centers on the island have also been criticized for poor living conditions and overcrowding. Malta's limited reception capacities may in part be explained due to the island's size -- it's the least populous EU country with only about half a million residents. Italy -- by comparison -- has a population of about 60 million people and is the EU's third largest economy.
When far-right League leader Matteo Salvini was interior minister of Italy between June 2018 and September 2019, he pursued a "closed ports" policy -- which increased pressure on Malta to take in migrants and refugees. Now, many observers believe that the new Italian government could pursue this type of policy once more.