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Italy’s new Interior Minister mulls blocking access to migrant-rescuing ships

Matteo Piantedosi
Matteo Piantedosi’s first action in office was sending letters to the NGOs’ respective countries, warning them of Italy’s intention to prevent refugees from disembarking on Italian turf. Once Matteo Salvini’s former right-hand man, he is signalling a change of pace

First day at the office. Matteo Piantedosi, Italy’s newly-appointed Minister of the Interior, kicked off his first day in office by communicating his intention to ban two NGO ships from entering Italian territorial waters.

  • The NGOs – one is Norwegian, and the other is German – are currently conducting rescue operations off the coasts of Libya and Malta.
  • In coordination with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Piantedosi also sent out letters to the Ambassadors of Germany and Norway to Italy, noting the ships “are not aligned with the spirit of EU and Italian border security and illegal migration laws.”

His bottom line: not Italy’s problem. Through this momentous call, he sought to reaffirm the responsibility of the countries under whose flags NGOs conduct rescue missions at sea.

The NGOs stated they had received “no communication from the Italian authorities” and that they have always “operated in accordance with the international law of the sea, rescuing people in distress.”

“Humanity and rigour”: Meloni’s migration policy. The new PM believes the inflow of migrants in Italy must be handled by impeding illegal migration and blocking human trafficking in the Mediterranean.

  • In practical terms, her stated policy includes resuming the original EU Sophia naval mission proposal (dead in the water for over two years), which entailed blocking illegal departures while creating hotspots on African territory, managed by international organisations, to oversee asylum requests.
  • However, this policy path will require time to be implemented as it must be proposed at the EU level and needs to be enforced in accordance with North African authorities.

Human rights at the centre of the controversy. United States President Joe Biden had already raised concerns on human rights during a phone call with PM Meloni. That call stemmed from her centre-right government’s track record on migration.

  • Mr Piantedosi’s decision was supported by both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – headed by Forza Italia’s Antonio Tajani, who’s also deputy PM – and by the League’s Matteo Salvini – who had tried to impede the entry of NGO rescue ships when he was Interior Minister (2018-2019).
    • Seeing as he might have breached international maritime laws, Mr Salvini is currently under trial.
    • Mr Piantedosi was his chief of staff at the time, contributing to the contentious “security decrees” that became Mr Salvini’s flagship policies on migration.

Change of tack. Minister Piantedosi’s actions are meant to signal a change of pace vis a vis Rome’s approach to migration. Such a course of action is most likely untenable. Instead, these actions are geared towards stirring the rest of the EU into acknowledging the new Italian government and its line, with the final goal of redesigning, as PM Meloni stated, the European approach to migration.

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