Along the most troubled stretch of land in Italian history, Matteo Salvini is launching his latest offensive. That is the border between Italy and Slovenia, itself a tragic outcome of a fascist-propelled war, and which now seems like little more than an abstract line on the map after Ljubljana’s entry into the Schengen area.
Salvini’s offensive has two stages: the organization of joint patrols by the Italian and Slovenian border police, and the construction of a wall between the two countries, which has been announced in recent days by the governor of the Friuli Venezia Giulia region, Massimiliano Fedriga. The aim is the same: to seal off Italy from the north to the south. The ultimate goal is to have a “wall” running from Trieste to Lampedusa, to discourage the arrival of those whom Fedriga called “undesirable people.”
The first stage of this offensive has been in operation since Monday, and it will remain so at least until the end of September, when the authorities will decide whether to extend it or not. Starting on July 1, four patrols involving two Italian border police officers and two Slovenian counterparts are being deployed every week along the 10-km-long common border area on the territories of the provinces of Trieste and Gorizia on the Italian side and Koper (Capodistria) and Nova Gorica on the Slovenian side. This operation is implementing forms of cross-border cooperation that have already been undertaken by the Department of Public Security in collaboration with the police authorities in other neighboring countries such as Austria, Switzerland and France. The goal is to fight illegal immigration and human trafficking along the Balkan route, which has experienced a resurgence of migratory flows in recent months on the route going through Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia, ending in Italy.
However, the numbers are not even remotely comparable to the 2015 crisis, as the head of the Koper District police, Vilwiam Toskan, explained on Monday: “In 2015, there were extremely high numbers. As many people were processed in one day as we process nowadays in six months.”
For example, since the start of 2019, Trieste and Gorizia have seen just 898 migrants arriving at the border, of whom 129 were readmitted into Slovenia. The numbers have dropped dramatically, due not only to the closure of the Balkan route four years ago, but, more recently, to the Croatian police’s policy of indiscriminate expulsion, which has made it very difficult to cross the Bosnian border, along which 10,000 migrants are stuck today, crowded in inhumane conditions. The crossing became so difficult that it pushed some of the refugees to return to Greece and take the sea route from there, according to Rade Kovac, the head of the intelligence department of the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The second part of the offensive, launched by Friuli governor Fedriga, has proven much more controversial: namely, the construction of a 243-km-long physical barrier on the Slovenian border to stem the flow of migrants, going as far as to stoke the fear of a suspension of the Schengen area provisions because of other countries’ unwillingness to cooperate in border surveillance.
The proposal sparked a firestorm of controversy, with harsh criticism coming from the mayors of Trieste and Gorizia, both from the center-right alliance. The controversy forced the governor of Friuli to back down, at least in part. In its current projected form, the wall will not be built “along the whole border,” Fedriga clarified, “but possibly along some of the most critical portions, in the Karst forests,” in order to “channel the arrivals onto pathways that are easily controllable.” The governor will meet with the Interior Minister in Rome tomorrow to discuss the wall and the joint patrol project, before Salvini’s scheduled visit to Trieste next Friday.
This is a bad omen for the EU, striking at the heart of what has been its greatest achievement: the free movement of persons. This conquest has been on shaky ground since 2015, when Austria erected the first physical barrier on the border with another Schengen state, none other than Slovenia: a wall over 300 km long, built to contain the flow of migrants. This new foreboding sign from Italy casts yet another dark shadow on the future of Europe.