After the electoral victory, Meloni hoped to change Italy’s immigration policy

ROME — For years, Giorgia Meloni has criticized Italy’s migration policies, calling them too lenient and risking turning the country into “Europe’s refugee camp.”

Now that she is Italy’s presumptive next prime minister, migration is one of the areas where Meloni can most easily bring about radical change.

“The smart approach is: you come to my house according to my rules,” Meloni, of the far-right Fratelli d’Italia party, said earlier this month at a interview with The Washington Post.

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His ideas, taken together, aim to significantly narrow the doors to one of the European Union’s frontline destinations for undocumented immigrants.

While in other areas, such as spending and foreign policy, Meloni would be more constrained by Europe, EU countries have plenty of leeway to manage their external borders, and she has long made it clear that stopping the flows of people across the Mediterranean is one of its priorities

But that doesn’t mean it will be hassle-free.

Efforts to block humanitarian rescue ships from docking in Italian ports could raise legal challenges. And if Meloni blocks roads to Italy, the volume of crossings would likely increase to other Mediterranean countries like Spain, as happened three years ago when Italy was briefly run by a populist anti-immigration government.

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“You can do things relatively quickly [on migration] that is draconian, symbolic and sends a clear message: We are here, we are doing something. But there is trouble in store,” said Andrew Geddes, director of the Center for Migration Policy at the European University Institute in Florence.

“When you stop the crossings and divert them [elsewhere], that’s where you come into conflict with the EU,” he said. “It will bring to life an old conflict.”

melon party received more support than any other group in national elections on Sunday, gaining a clear mandate to lead Italy’s next government and putting Meloni in position to become prime minister. During the brief campaign, which came after the collapse of Mario Draghi’s unity government, immigration policy was one of the low priorities, given rising energy bills, a looming recession in Europe and other serious problems stemming from the war. of Russia in Ukraine.

But immigration still strikes a chord with many right-wing voters in Italy, who feel their country has received little help from Europe in handling the burden of accommodating and integrating newcomers. A wave of asylum seekers and refugees in 2015 and 2016 made migration a political touchstone for several years and helped spark a nationalist movement across Europe. Although Meloni’s party did not immediately benefit from those sentiments, it later siphoned votes away from a rival far-right Italian group, the League, which soared in part due to immigration backlash.

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Although millions of Ukrainians have sought refuge in Europe this year, taking advantage of special residence and work rights, immigration across the Mediterranean is nowhere near the figures of seven years ago. To the extent that you have markedCompared to rates before and after the pandemic, politicians allied with Meloni blame the lax policies of recent governments, including Draghi’s.

Jude Sunderland, associate director for Human Rights Watch in Italy, said people were choosing the trip for other reasons, including rising food prices and deteriorating conditions in their own countries.

Meloni and the other two parties in his coalition said in a jointly published platform that they want to block rescue ships from Italian ports as a way to stop “trafficking in human beings” from Africa. Such a move would be a throwback to the period of 2018 and 2019, when Italian politics was dominated by then Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who promised to stop the “invasion”.

Salvini’s first move was to close the ports to the myriad of non-governmental groups sailing the Mediterranean and trying to rescue migrants from their fragile boats. His move led to prolonged and risky clashes in which boats with hundreds of migrants on board couldn’t find anywhere to dockand sometimes spent weeks at sea while European countries negotiated how to divide up the passengers.

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The practice landed Salvini in four court cases, one of which is still ongoing, where he faces a sentence of up to 15 years if convicted of kidnapping for abuse of power. Two other cases were dismissed and, in one case, the Italian Senate used his power to avoid a trial. Meanwhile, the NGOs saw their boats seized and faced Italian legal challenges.

Some experts said crossing the Mediterranean became more deadly during Salvini’s time: the number of arrivals in Italy fell, but the number of deaths did not drop proportionately.

We know it will be more difficult [again]. We know it will be more difficult,” said Mattea Weihe, a spokeswoman for Berlin-based Sea-Watch, one of the NGOs handling the rescue work. Weihe said his group, with an eye on the far-right’s expected victory in Italy, had bought a new rescue ship as a “way to bring a different game to the table.”

Italy’s far-right standard-bearer is now in power and wants to keep his promises against immigrants.

Meloni has also repeatedly called for a “naval blockade” of the Mediterranean. A Meloni spokesman said on Monday that such a move could only be led by Europe and in cooperation with North African countries.

In his interview with The Post, Meloni said that “migrant flows must be managed”, because “nations only exist if there are borders and if they defend themselves”. She said Italy had been providing immigrants with few legal avenues, while instead allowing migration to be dominated by “smugglers” and “slave owners.”

“Is it a smart approach? No,” she said. “Letting in hundreds of thousands of people and then keeping them dealing drugs or forcing them into prostitution on the margins of our society is not solidarity.”

Giorgia Meloni interview with The Washington Post

She has suggested that Italy, in cooperation with Europe, should set up so-called hot spots outside the EU where potential asylum seekers and refugees can be vetted, with only those approved passing through. Politicians on the left and right have long talked about such ideas, but the obstacles are manifold: few countries want to host such centers, and the potential for rights abuses is plentiful. Britain is pursuing a related plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, but its implementation has been complicated by court challenges.

Within the EU, several countries over the years have taken significant steps to make it harder for undocumented immigrants to reach the bloc. Greece has been accused of intercepting migrants crossing from Turkey and pushing them back into international waters, a violation of international law. And Italy, in a policy supported by both the left and the right, has worked to build and equip the libyan coast guard to push back migrants seeking to cross the Mediterranean.

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Even under Draghi, rescue groups faced obstacles, including delays at sea. But it was rare that they were denied access to the port.

Rossella Miccio, president of Emergency, an Italian NGO that plans to start a search-and-rescue mission in the Mediterranean next month, said “there has been too much pervasive homogeneity in Italian politics” that leaves out “the priority of human rights. “

She thought the weather would deteriorate further.

“We are frankly concerned, not about our activity, but about the lives of people at sea who need to be rescued, rather than being stopped dead and sent back,” Miccio said.

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