Until a few days ago, when he was still part of the grand majority that supported Mario Draghi for Prime Minister, Matteo Salvini’s priorities were inflation, utility bills and Italians’ wages. Now that the winds of the electoral campaign have started blowing again, and with a sense of urgency too, the Lega secretary prefers to go back to pushing the tried-and-true Lega tropes, speaking to the lower impulses of the Lega’s electorate: “No more illegal immigrants. As soon as we are in government, we will make new security decrees and defend Italy’s borders,” he promised during a rally held in Domodossola.
His message was also taken up on Monday by the Lega’s Undersecretary of the Interior, Nicola Molteni: “37,000 landings since the beginning of the year in Italy, 9,000 in July alone; the reception center [in Lampedusa] is in an emergency. The priority for Salvini’s Lega is the restoration of the security decrees.”
It’s a simple message, made even easier to push by the increase in landings recorded in recent days in Lampedusa, where on Monday morning there were still 1,700 men, women and children crammed into the Contrada Imbriacola center.
In the coming days, Salvini will come to Lampedusa, invited by the deputy mayor from the Lega. The party head is expected to show up on August 4 and 5, but he is likely to arrive after the crisis is already over. As they’ve done in previous days, the Interior and Defense Ministry have ordered the dispatch of the Coast Guard’s Diciotti ship to transfer the migrants to Sicilian ports, where they will be sorted. By Tuesday morning, according to Interior Ministry sources, 1,000 migrants are expected to be transferred, 600 of whom left the island on Monday night aboard the Diciotti. The transfer operations will continue on Tuesday and Wednesday, with the use of regular ferries and naval units of the Navy and Coast Guard, while the chartering of a ship to be used for possible future emergencies is also being finalized by the Interior Ministry.
The irony is that Lampedusa has been governed since June by a center-right junta that in previous years had certainly not spared any criticism of the past administration. But now, faced with the task of managing the situation themselves, they seem to be in trouble. “Compared to before, the reception machine has jammed,” former mayor Totò Martello is accusing, to no one’s surprise, now the head of the PD group in the city council. “I am concerned to read some statements in which people are starting to talk about ‘defending the border’ again: the issue of managing migratory flows is too serious and delicate to be exploited for electoral propaganda.”
One can’t help agreeing with the former mayor. Sunshine and calm seas alone are not enough to explain the sheer number of boats and barges that have been crossing the Mediterranean for days, and the tragedies that all too often come with them (on Monday, the Messina prosecutor’s office confirmed the deaths from heat and thirst of five men who were aboard a fishing boat rescued by the Coast Guard on Sunday). Behind the influx of migrants (there were nine more landings on the island yesterday) lie the political crises in Libya and Tunisia, the food emergency and the climate emergency, to name just a few of the reasons why hundreds and hundreds of desperate people are taking to the sea every day. And no matter how much one may want to defend the borders, as the Lega promises, it is difficult, if not impossible, to stop them. The Interior Ministry is pointing out that it is no coincidence that those arriving in large numbers are mainly Tunisians and Egyptians.
Amid the turmoil, some good things are happening. The European platform – the result of the June 10 agreement on the distribution of migrants, which is supposed to match the demand with offers of reception – is now ready and should start operating in the coming days. There are 21 countries that have said they are ready to take in migrants – both asylum seekers and economic migrants – for a total of 10,000 places a year.
Finally, NGO ships are still at sea, waiting for a port. On Monday, SOS Mediterranée’s Ocean Viking rescued another 80 people who were aboard a nearly deflated dinghy 40 miles off the Libyan coast. There are currently a total of 387 shipwrecked people on board. On the other hand, Sea Watch accuses that “a hundred migrants rescued by the Von Triton ship were transferred to a Libyan Coast Guard patrol boat and brought back to the North African country,” including “the bodies of four people who did not survive the crossing.”