With only two days into office, the new populist Italian government has made an uncanny Trump-like start. Yesterday, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, leader of far-right Lega party, traveled to Pozzallo, a popular port-city in Sicily for migrants traveling from Northern Africa. Here, Salvini maintained his campaign promise to take a new hardline approach towards Italy’s dramatic rise in migrants.
The Interior Minister accused Tunisia of sending “convicts” to Italy, while also accusing NGOs who save refugees from the shores of Italy of being complicit with human traffickers, stating that “Countries need to start doing their job and no more smugglers should be docking in Italian ports”. This morning, the Tunisian government stated that they have felt “profound amazement for the remarks of the Italian Interior Minister regarding immigration”.
These quick and stern proposals by Salvini bear a striking resemblance to plans President Trump made while campaigning and soon implemented once elected. While on the campaign trail, Trump famously said “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best… They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” Additionally, seven days after Trump was signed into office, he signed his famous travel ban, an Executive Order that banned foreign nationals from seven predominantly Muslim countries from visiting the country for 90 days, suspended entry to the country of all Syrian refugees indefinitely, and prohibited any other refugees from coming into the country for 120 days. Unlike Trump, Salvini cannot call for a wall to be built along the sea. Thus, his next step is to frame NGOs saving refugees as criminals.
During a press briefing today in the United Nations headquarters, U.N. Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Stéphane Dujarric (watch video below, minute 15:55) responded to La Voce’s questions concerning Salvini’s remarks about NGOs engaging in criminal activity in Italy, emphasizing the U.N.’s praise for NGOs. “The work of NGOs in saving and protecting lives of refugees and of migrants who make very dangerous crossings in the Mediterranean (…) is very important, is very important to the safety of these people, and the U.N. system works a lot with these NGOs. There is a bigger issue here at play, and it’s how do we deal with this mass movement of people that we are seeing, the greatest mass movement of people we’re seeing since the Second World War, and that’s exactly the point of the work that’s being done even this week, if I’m not mistaken, in New York on the Global Migration Compact, where countries of origin, countries of destination, countries of transit need to come up with a framework which places really the safety and the dignity of human beings at its heart, while always respecting the sovereignty of member states, and we would encourage all countries to actively participate in this dialogue.”
It is clear that Salvini’s statements stem from his beliefs that Italy has been “abandoned” by the European Union in handling the great influx of migrants after he insisted that Italy will no longer be “Europe’s refugee camp”. However, these sentiments are not new. In 2017 Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano had also declared that Italy had been abandoned by other European nations, stating that Italy “cannot bear this burden alone.” In a tweet, Salvini threatened: “either Europe gives us a hand in making our country secure, or we will choose other methods”. Like Trump’s constant fight for the travel ban, this shows the battle for the country’s migration policy is only beginning.