Italy's new interior minister, Matteo Salvini, has vowed to cut aid money for migrants and to deport those who illegally are in the country.
"Open doors in Italy for the right people and a one-way ticket out for those who come here to make trouble and think that we will provide for them," Salvini said in the Lombardy region, home to a quarter of the total foreign population in Italy. "One of our top priorities will be deportation."
Salvini, leader of the nationalist League (Lega) party, formed a new coalition government with the populist Five Star Movement (M5S) on June 1. The government's program, outlined in a 39-page action plan, promises to crack down on illegal immigration and to deport up to 500,000 undocumented migrants.
"The party is over for illegal immigrants," Salvini said at a June 2 rally in Vicenza. "They will have to pack their bags, in a polite and calm manner, but they will have to go. Refugees escaping from war are welcome, but all others must leave."
From left to right: Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Labor and Industry and Deputy PM Luigi Di Maio on June 1, 2018 in Rome. (Photo by Elisabetta Villa/Getty Images)
On June 3, Salvini visited Sicily, one of the main landing points in Europe for migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa. He said:
"Enough of Sicily being the refugee camp of Europe. I will not stand by and do nothing while there are landings after landings of migrants. We need deportation centres.
"There are not enough homes or jobs for Italians, let alone for half the African continent. We need to use common sense."
Salvini also accused Tunisian authorities of deliberately sending criminals to Italy:
"Tunisia is a free and democratic country that is not exporting gentlemen but often willingly exports convicts. I will speak to my Tunisian counterpart, it does not seem to me that there are wars, pestilence or famine in Tunisia."
Italy is the main European gateway for migrants arriving by sea: 119,369 arrived by sea in 2017 and 181,436 in 2016, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). An estimated 700,000 migrants have arrived in Italy during the past five years.
Italy has been the main point of entry to Europe since the EU-Turkey migrant deal, signed in March 2016, shut off the route from Turkey to Greece, at one time the preferred point of entry to Europe for migrants from Asia and the Middle East.
In February 2017, Italy signed a migrant deal with Libya to intercept boats and return migrants to Libya. The deal, in which Italy committed to equipping and financing the Libyan coast guard, resulted in a 75% decrease in arrivals during the summer of 2017. Since the beginning of 2018, however, more than 13,000 migrants have arrived in Italy from Libya. Those numbers are expected to increase during the summer as the weather improves.
Meanwhile, Italy deported only 6,514 migrants in 2017, and 5,817 in 2016. The new government has pledged to speed up deportations by converting migrant reception centers into deportation centers. Deportations, however, are expensive and complex.
According to Italian law, for example, at least two agents must escort each deportee in an elaborate operation. The newspaper La Repubblica described a recent deportation operation of 29 Tunisians, who were escorted on an aircraft chartered from Bulgaria by 74 government agents, including doctors, nurses, armed police and unarmed plainclothes officers, at a total cost of €115,000 ($135,000), or €3,965 per deportee.
At this rate, the new government's pledge to deport 500,000 migrants would cost Italian taxpayers nearly €2 billion ($2.3 billion).
The previous government allotted around five billion euros to pay for expenses related to the migrant crisis in 2018: 20% is for rescues at sea; 15% for health care, and 65% for migrant reception centres, which currently host around 200,000 people.
The new government has said that it wants to divert some of the funds allotted for the reception centers to pay for deportations. In addition to the financial costs, Italy faces legal hurdles that make mass deportations nearly impossible.
Article 19, Paragraph 2 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights states:
"No one may be removed, expelled or extradited to a State where there is a serious risk that he or she would be subjected to the death penalty, torture or other inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."
This law effectively prevents Italy and other EU members from deporting migrants to most countries in the Muslim world.
The new government has also pledged to negotiate more bilateral deportation agreements. Italy currently has deportation agreements with only five countries: Egypt, Gambia, Nigeria, Sudan and Tunisia. Migrants cannot be deported without approval from the states of origin.
Salvini has also said that Italy will reject proposed changes to the Dublin Regulation, a law that requires people seeking refuge within the EU to do so in the first European country they reach. The Dublin Regulation will be the focus of a meeting between the interior ministers of the 28 EU members states in Luxembourg on June 4.
Italy's geographic location means that it has borne disproportionate responsibility for illegal immigration from Africa and the Middle East, but Salvini said that other EU member states are resisting changes that would require them to share the burden: "They want to weigh down the Mediterranean countries, such as Italy, Cyprus, Malta and Spain, giving us thousands of more migrants for a period ten years."
EU law currently requires member states to be financially responsible for migrants arriving in their countries for a period of ten years. Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, want that responsibility to be reduced to eight years, but Italy, Cyprus, Greece, Malta and Spain want to lessen it to a maximum of two years.
Meanwhile, pro-EU, pro-mass migration and pro-multiculturalism media outlets have gone into attack mode in an effort to undermine the new Italian government.
The German newsmagazine Der Spiegel published a cover which featured a fork of spaghetti with one piece dangling as a noose: "Italy is destroying itself — and dragging down Europe with it." It wrote, in apocalyptic terms:
"The EU must adopt a united stance on Donald Trump, whose misguided policies threaten both Europe's security and prosperity. Trump is forcing Europe into a trade war and, worse yet, he threatens to scrap the postwar international order that enabled the Europeans to find their place in the world — through trade and the structures of the World Trade Organization and the security it found in the form of NATO.
"But how can the EU wage a trade war if Italy threatens to spiral into chaos? At a time when the EU could be proving itself as an alternative to Trump's unilateralism...Europe may instead be facing months, if not years, of squabbling over a possible bailout for Italy.... If this country teeters, it will shake the entire architecture of the European Union.
"The Italy crisis is a convergence of the two greatest challenges facing the EU: the economic threat to the eurozone and the erosion of shared values and norms. If the populists now govern in Italy, the country could steer itself on a course of constant confrontation with Brussels — by for example, expressing its solidarity on key issues with right-wing populists in France, Austria or Finland or with the EU-critical governments in Hungary and Poland.
"Or it could take the side of half or full-on autocrats like Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin and undermine European unity in the process. Some potential issues where it could do so include the Iran agreement, the trade tariffs imposed by Trump, the extension of sanctions against Russia, climate policy or even the European approach to China.
"The revival of nationalism in Europe, particularly in Italy, is bad news for the Continent. If the EU ever had one great, overarching goal, then it was to counter national self-interest with the vision of a transnational community of values. What will hold Europe together if that foundation is shaken?"
The New York Times wrote:
"The xenophobic League and the out-with-the-old-order Five Star Movement — bring together bigotry and incompetence to an unusual degree. They are a miserable bunch borne aloft on the global anti-liberal tide."
"Matteo Salvini — the leader of the League and the incoming deputy prime minister and interior minister — is vowing a crackdown on migration and the expulsion of up to 500,000 migrants already in Italy.
"That could force Brussels to start an Article 7 process against Italy for breaking the fundamental commitments to the rule of law.
"And the new Italian leaders have already expressed their desire to improve relations and trade with Russia and its president, Vladimir V. Putin.
"That may mean that the European Union is unable to renew economic sanctions against Russia stemming from its behavior abroad, including its annexation of Crimea, violation of the Minsk accords in eastern Ukraine and the assassination attempt on a former Russian spy and his daughter in Britain, which the Kremlin continues to deny.
Enter George Soros, a billionaire Hungarian-American committed to mass migration in Europe, who blamed Russia for interfering in the Italian election:
"I am very concerned about the proximity of the new coalition government to Russia. They said that they are in favor of the cancellation of sanctions against Russia.... There is a close relationship between Matteo Salvini and Vladimir Putin. I do not know if Putin actually finances his party, but Italian public opinion has the right to know if Salvini is on Putin's pay check."
After the new Italian government was formed, Soros called for more open borders:
"Until recently, the majority of migrants could move to the countries of northern Europe, their true destination. Then both France and Austria closed the borders and the migrants found themselves stuck in Italy.... This was the main reason why the League did so well in the last election.
"The EU must change the existing regulations and pay a large part of what is needed to integrate and support the migrants that are stuck in Italy in such an out-of-proportion proportion."
"We have never received a lira, a euro or a ruble from Russia. I think Putin is one of the best statesmen around and I am ashamed of the fact that Italy has invited an unscrupulous speculator like Mr. Soros to speak here."
Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute.