The Geo Barents, of MSF, enters the port of Ancona on January 12 | Photo: ANSA/DAVIDE GENNARI
The Geo Barents, of MSF, enters the port of Ancona on January 12 | Photo: ANSA/DAVIDE GENNARI

While migrant landings are slowing down due to adverse meteorological conditions, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has met with her government with the aim of forging agreements with countries of departure of migrants.

Rough seas have led to a slowdown in migrant landings after nearly 4,000 people were reported to have reached Italy’s coast in the first week of January. But the immigration dossier remains at the forefront of the Italian government’s agenda.

Premier Giorgia Meloni on Wednesday, January 11, met with deputy premiers Antonio Tajani and Matteo Salvini, respectively foreign and infrastructure ministers, the undersecretary to the prime minister, the authority in charge of security, Alfredo Mantovano, Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi, and intelligence chiefs to discuss the situation and the next steps after the approval of a decree regulating NGO migrant rescue ships.

Ministers Tajani and Piantedosi to undertake missions abroad soon

The government’s short-term objective is to forge agreements with the countries of departure of migrants.

Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani is scheduled to travel soon to Tunisia, Turkey and Libya. Piantedosi has also planned a series of visits, starting with Turkey. And Europe is at the center of the government’s agenda: Meloni is expected to attend on February 9-10 an EU Council on immigration. Tajani on Tuesday, January 10, also held talks with his Tunisian counterpart Othman Jerandi.

"I asked the Tunisian government for reassurances that more controls will be carried out on the departure of migrants," said the minister. "We are working and pushing Europe towards common choices, also to make investments in Africa."

More investments in African countries are being promoted in exchange for a stronger commitment in the fight against human traffickers operating boats that travel to Italy. The objective pursued by the government is not easy in Tunisia, a country rocked by a grave economic crisis, as well as in Libya, which lacks trustworthy institutional interlocutors.

No data on so-called ‘pull factor’

Meanwhile, NGOs SOS Méditerranée and Doctors Without Borders (MSF), after the arrival of their migrant-rescue vessels Ocean Viking and Geo Barents in the Marches port city of Ancona, have complained about the "useless suffering" of passengers that could have been avoided had the boats been assigned a closer port to disembark those on board.

And NGOs were at the center of a political controversy after Piantedosi this week reiterated allegation that NGO-run search-and-rescue ships are encouraging illegal crossings of the Mediterranean by boats transporting migrants. Nicola Fratoianni, leader of the Italian Left (SI), said the allegation "clashes completely with all the investigations and studies carried out so far". He called for "more seriousness, less propaganda and less fake news".

Meanwhile Matteo Villa, a researcher at ISPI, the Italian Institute for International Political Studies, said "no data supports claims that NGO ships are a ‘pull factor’". On the contrary, since 2019, on a daily basis, departures from Libya have remained unchanged regardless of the presence of NGO" run vessels in front of the country’s coasts, he noted.

The researcher said the only relevant factors affecting departures are "weather conditions and the economy of countries of departure".

Villa said that, since October 22, 2022, when Giorgia Meloni’s government took office, until January 9 this year, the number of migrants rescued by NGO-run vessels compared to the overall number of migrants who landed has dropped to 7% compared to 22% in the same period last year. This was reported while landings doubled from 16,351 to 31,356 over the same period.

House starts discussing decree cracking down on NGO ships

Meanwhile the Lower House has started procedures to examine a new decree clamping down on NGOs running migrant rescue operations in the Mediterranean with a number of measures stating, among other things, that they can only carry out one rescue at a time.

Members of the opposition have announced a "harsh battle", said Democratic Party (PD) deputy leader and MP Giuseppe Provenzano and started presenting preliminary questions. Meanwhile the lawmaker who drafted the decree Fabio Raimondo, a member of Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party (FdI), said "NGOs must stop deciding in total autonomy".

The legislation will be examined by the Lower House on February 2.


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