Giorgia Meloni has long criticized Italy’s migration policies, claiming they are too lenient and risk turning the country into a “refugee camp of Europe.”
Now that Meloni is expected to be Italy’s next prime minister, migration is one of the areas where she can most easily effect significant change.
“The smart approach is: You come to my house according to my rules,” Meloni, of the far-right Fratelli d’Italia party, told The Washington Post earlier this month.
Her proposals, taken together, have the potential to significantly tighten the doors to one of the European Union’s most popular destinations for undocumented immigrants.
While Meloni would be more constrained by Europe in other areas, such as spending and foreign policy, countries have plenty of leeway to handle their own borders, and she has long stated that stopping flows across the Mediterranean is one of her priorities.
Attempts to prevent humanitarian rescue ships from docking in Italian ports may result in legal action. And if Meloni closes off routes to Italy, the volume of crossings to other Mediterranean countries such as Spain will almost certainly increase, as happened three years ago when Italy was briefly led by an anti-migration, populist government.
Meloni’s party received the most votes in Sunday’s national elections, giving it a clear mandate to lead Italy’s next government and putting Meloni in line to become Prime Minister. Given soaring energy bills, a looming European recession, and other complications stemming from Russia’s war in Ukraine, migration was low on the priority list during the short campaign, which followed the collapse of Mario Draghi’s unity government.
However, migration continues to irritate many right-wing voters in Italy, who believe that Europe has done little to help the country deal with the burden of accommodating and integrating newcomers. A record influx of asylum seekers and refugees in 2015 and 2016 made migration a political touchstone for several years, sparking a nationalist movement across Europe. Though Meloni’s party did not benefit immediately from those sentiments, she later siphoned votes from a rival Italian far-right group, the League, which had risen in part due to the migration backlash.
Migration to Europe is nowhere near what it was seven years ago. However, compared to the rates just before and after the pandemic, they have increased this year. Politicians close to Meloni attribute the increase to lax policies implemented by recent governments, including Draghi’s.
According to Jude Sunderland, an associate director at Human Rights Watch based in Italy, people are choosing to travel for a variety of reasons, including rising food prices and deteriorating conditions in their home countries.
Salvini’s first move was to close ports to a slew of nongovernmental organizations that sail around the Mediterranean attempting to rescue migrants from their flimsy boats. His decision resulted in protracted and dangerous standoffs in which boats carrying hundreds of migrants could not find a dock and sometimes spent weeks at sea while European countries negotiated how to divide passengers.
Meloni has also called for a “naval blockade” of the Mediterranean on numerous occasions. According to Meloni’s spokesman, such a move could only be led by Europe in collaboration with North African countries.
She has proposed that Italy, in collaboration with Europe, establish so-called hot spots outside the EU where would-be asylum seekers and refugees can be vetted, with only those who are approved gaining entry. Politicians on both the left and right have long discussed such ideas, but the obstacles are numerous: Few countries want to host such facilities, and the possibility of human rights violations is high. Britain is pursuing a similar plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, but its implementation has been hampered by legal challenges.
Several EU member states have taken significant steps in recent years to make it more difficult for undocumented immigrants to enter the bloc. Greece has been accused of intercepting migrants attempting to cross the border from Turkey and forcing them back into international waters. And, in a policy supported by both the left and the right, Italy has worked to strengthen and equip the Libyan coast guard in order to deter migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean.