The Italian government on Monday approved new measures to curb migrant arrivals, including creating more detention centers and extending the length of detention for rejected migrants to deter exodus from North Africa.
• Also read: The migration pressure that Italy is suffering from is “unsustainable,” says Giorgia Meloni
A sharp increase in arrivals on the small Italian island of Lampedusa, where thousands of people were forced to sleep under the stars last week, has forced the far-right government to enter crisis management mode.
Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni promised on Sunday that her government would initiate a new turnaround, notably by extending the maximum detention period for irregular immigrants from 135 days to 18 months.
“This means – and I am sending this very clear message to all of Africa – that when you arrive in Italy, you must know that if you rely on human traffickers to violate Italian laws, you will be arrested and then repatriated,” she said .
- Listen to international political expert Loïc Tassé talk about the situation in Lampedusa, Italy, on Benoit Dutrizac’s show QUB radio :
The extension of the detention period was approved by the Council of Ministers on Monday, a government source told AFP. Now it has to be voted on in parliament.
This reform will also prevent the Italian authorities from being legally obliged to release foreigners with a decision to return them to the border if the expulsion procedure is not completed within the current 135 day period.
After disembarking in Italy, the vast majority of migrants are sent to reception centers across the country, where they remain until a decision is made on their asylum application.
Migrants awaiting deportation are sent to detention centers for illegal immigrants, of which there are nine on the peninsula, particularly in Bari (south), Rome (centre) and Milan (north).
The maximum prison term in Italy was 18 months from 2011 to 2014, then it was shortened by the left-wing government under Matteo Renzi.
Will this measure have an impact? “I don’t think this will be very deterrent and will be enough to convince people fleeing situations much worse than what is presented to them here,” said Alfonso Giordano, a migration specialist and professor at Roman University Luiss, in an interview with AFP.
The nine existing detention centers have a maximum capacity of 1,161 people. In 2022, almost 6,400 people were staying there, most of them from Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria and Albania. According to the Italian prison control authority, just over 3,150 of them were repatriated; the others remained inadmissible but mostly could not be deported.
Ms. Meloni, who won last year’s general election on a decidedly anti-migrant platform, said on Sunday that the Defense Ministry was also responsible for setting up new detention centers “as quickly as possible.”
The government will provide 42.5 million euros for new detention centers by the end of 2022, and the Defense Ministry will renovate existing sites in sparsely populated areas.
Nearly 130,000 people have arrived in Italy since the start of the year, compared to 68,200 in 2022, according to the latest figures released by the Interior Ministry on Monday.
Last week, around 8,500 migrants arrived in Lampedusa in three days (more than the entire population of the island), far exceeding the capacity of the local reception center, which can accommodate a maximum of 400 people.
Giorgia Meloni called on her partners in the European Union to show more solidarity with Italy, which is at the forefront of arriving migrants. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who visited Lampedusa with Ms Meloni on Sunday, proposed a ten-point plan to help Rome deal with this crisis.
The aim of this plan is to take a strong stand against smugglers and human traffickers and to make it easier for those who can apply for asylum to enter the European Union legally.
“As long as there is no concerted action at the European level, with integrated control of the Mediterranean (…), we can make all the announcements we want at the national level (…), but the situation will not change.” Judge : Professor Alfonso Giordano.