Social media has been awash with videos of migrants storming the shores of Italy in recent days, and Italy’s nominally conservative government is being forced to respond.
Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, known for his hawkish stance on immigration during his tenure as interior minister in 2018, said on Wednesday that when 120 boats filled with migrants arrive on the shores of Italy at the same time, “it is not a spontaneous phenomenon, it is a declaration of war on Europe.”
The deputy prime minister of the right-wing government in Rome, who currently heads the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport, referred to the fact that the boats with approximately 6,000 migrants docked on the island of Lampedusa in one day. He stressed that the problem was not exclusive to Lampedusa and that the situation threatened to “collapse Italian society as a whole.”
Salvni said he is convinced that mass migration to Europe was being orchestrated by criminal organizations, including human trafficking organizations. He added that Europe had completely abandoned Italy to protect its land and maritime borders and that Rome should act on its own to further tighten national security and migration regulations.
Salvini first met with League ministers, state secretaries and parliamentarians behind closed doors, before holding a press conference at the headquarters of the Foreign Correspondents’ Association in Rome. He also presented the issues on the RAI evening news program.
“The united center-right that came to government almost a year ago is working well in Italy, the same united center-right that gives us hope to make a difference in Europe,” Salvini said.
Video footage of boat after boat made waves on social media, with it serving as a visceral reminder of the spiraling immigration crisis Europe is facing.
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni ran on a campaign platform of blocking migrants and setting up a “naval blockade;” however, since coming to power, she has overseen a record number of illegal migrants arriving in Italy and has even approved plans for Italy to accept over 400,000 non-EU legal migrants per year.
Salvini, who managed to reduce illegal immigration dramatically when he served as interior minister, appears to value unity with Meloni at the moment and is not showing any public signs that he is ready to challenge his coalition partner. As Remix News previously reported, despite Meloni’s U-turn on immigration, she has maintained strong polling numbers in Italy, and the country’s growing immigration crisis does not appear to have dented her appeal with voters.
Salvini stated that uniting European conservatives and moderates is the only way to “send the socialists home,” referring to the European Parliament elections next year. He noted that the stakes of the elections amount to the future of Europe.
The immigration crisis could galvanize voters to swing to the right, but it could also backfire, especially if the scenes in Lampedusa and elsewhere in Italy begin to filter to the broader Italian populace, who may start to view the ruling the conservative government with skepticism. The EU, for its part, has done little to aid Italy, and if anything, could turn the screws on Meloni’s government if she takes any significant action to stem the immigration crisis.
Salvini also announced that on Saturday and Sunday the traditional annual meeting of the League, to be held in Pontida, Lombardy, will be attended by Marine Le Pen, leader of the French National Rally. Le Pen has come out in support of Salvini since the Meloni government formed, saying she is more ideologically aligned with the League party leader. Le Pen, in particular, says she rejects Meloni’s foreign policy stances.
The League leader also touched on the war in Ukraine, saying that a small state like the Vatican is doing more to stop the conflict than many major powers. Salvini said that Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, who is leading the peace mission launched by Pope Francis and is in Beijing for talks, has done more than the European Union.
The war in Ukraine remains another major point of contention between Salvini and Meloni, with Salvini seeking to disengage Italy from sending weapons to Ukraine, whereas Meloni has taken a more pro-Brussels stance and sought to eslcate Italy’s role in the conflict.