Rome, Italy—The Italian government has once more entered a row with the EU over migrant distribution.
This time, however, it has threatened to cease EU funding unless other European countries agree to receive more migrants.
If the European Commission doesn’t agree to a fairer distribution of migrants “the 5-Star and I will not be willing to give €20 billion each year to the EU,” said Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio.
This dispute arose after an Italian Coast Guard vessel rescued 150 migrants but didn’t receive authorization to disembark them to Italian soil. This isn’t the first incident where the new Italian government has threatened the EU over immigration issues. Previously, in the summer, successful negotiations had allowed vessels carrying migrants to dock in Italy and Malta. Italy, alongside Greece and Spain, is at the forefront of an unprecedented immigration wave that began after the Arab Spring.
A report from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) titled “Desperate Journeys” states that 2,276 people died in 2017 attempting to cross the Mediterranean and reach European soil. So far in 2018, 1,095 people have perished in the dangerous crossing, with June being the deadliest month (one death for every seven arrivals).
The Italian government is comprised of a coalition of the populist 5-Star movement and the far-right Northern League. Since taking office in June, both parties have pursued an anti-immigration policy. Fellow Italian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior, Matteo Salvini has argued for the adoption of the Australian model of immigration, where rescued illegal migrants aren’t allowed to enter Australian soil. Moreover, the Italian government asserts that the waves of people trying to reach European soil aren’t political refugees but illegal immigrants.
“I’m not unknown. My name is Matteo Salvini… I’m the Interior Minister and I think it is my duty to defend the security of this country’s borders,” said a defiant Salvini.
Italian opinion polls reveal that the government’s hardline reflects the people’s feelings: the Northern League’s approval rating has risen 10% since the election.
“Either Europe begins to seriously defend its borders and shares the relocation of immigrants, or we will start taking them back to the port that they left,” threatened Salvini.
In response, Mohamad Siala, foreign minister in Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), said that would be unfair considering the close to a million migrants currently stationed in Libyan territory.
The reality is grim for those unfortunate enough to gain asylum in Europe. According to Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR’s representative for the central Mediterranean, migrants “are sent back to detention centers, and many disappear. Many are sold to militias, and to traffickers, and people employing them without paying them.”
“The soft line does not work, the hard line will be to withhold funds if they don’t listen to us,” added Di Maio.