ROME – Italy’s right-wing government has launched a crackdown on immigration, approving measures to give authorities the power to detain migrants for up to 18 months and ordering the construction of new centers to house them.
The hardline reforms follow a surge in boat arrivals this month, with more than 10,000 people disembarking on the small Italian island of Lampedusa, a number larger than its usual resident population.
Lampedusa, just over 100 kilometers from the coast of Tunisia, is the gateway to Europe for many immigrants looking for a new life.
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni came to power a year ago promising to curb immigration, but arrivals have nearly doubled in 2023, year on year, according to government data.
On Monday, Rome’s cabinet approved measures to increase the time illegal immigrants can be detained from three to 18 months, according to an official in the prime minister’s office. Ministers also approved the construction of new detention centers aimed at holding all those who arrive without a visa until they are deemed eligible for asylum or repatriated.
“We will have all the time necessary not only to carry out the necessary controls but also to proceed with the repatriation of those who do not have the right to international protection,” Meloni said. The battle against immigration is “an epoch-making battle for Italy and Europe,” she said.
On Friday in a video. message He said coups, natural disasters, the grain war and jihadism, as well as an economic crisis in Tunisia, had contributed to “unsustainable immigration pressure” on Italy. The conditions “could cause tens of millions of people to seek a better life in Europe,” he said. “However, it is evident that Italy and Europe cannot accommodate this enormous mass of people.”
He said he wanted to “send a message” to potential immigrants. “There is no point in trusting traffickers, because they take a lot of money from you, put you on a boat that is not suitable for the journey and once you get here they detain you and return you.”
The Lampedusa crisis provided the perfect excuse for Meloni to appease his base with a crackdown on migration.
The new measures are intended to work in combination with a plan to combat trafficking with increased surveillance and a European naval mission to block exits announced by EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Sunday. during a visit to the island with Meloni.
Democratic opposition leader Elly Schlein called the increase in detention times “a hateful choice.” In a letter to La Repubblica, she said such measures in the past had not helped increase repatriations. She called for “safe and legal” ways to reach Europe.
Repatriation efforts have not been successful in the past. According to the OpenPolis think tank, between 2014 and 2020, only about 20 percent of people subject to a repatriation order left the country.