How will Italian PM Meloni's anti-immigration stance evolve in 2023?
Alex Fraser

Giorgia Meloni became Prime Minister in October, promising to stand up for Italy's reputation in Europe and imposing tough deterrents against illegal immigration.

Within days of her coalition being sworn in, the government tightened measures on search and rescue boats in the Mediterranean Sea. They claimed NGO-operated boats were acting as a pull factor to encourage people from Africa to make the perilous journey to Europe.

According to official figures, more than 88,000 migrants arrived in Italy in 2022, 15 percent of them from rescue boats in the Mediterranean. The route is one of the most dangerous in the world. A report by Human Rights Watch estimated 25,000 people have drowned since 2014, with 1,200 deaths in 2022.

Meloni's government began to implement a policy of selective landing. Only vulnerable people, including women and children, were allowed to disembark from specific search and rescue boats at Italian ports.


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The Rise Above, a small rescue boat crewed by German charity Mission Lifeline, was stuck in the standoff, having rescued 89 people off the coast of Malta. The Italian coastguard rejected permission to dock eleven times. Passengers including a pregnant woman spent five nights stuck at sea on the small 25 meter vessel, before eventually being allowed to disembark at the southern port of Calabria.

"Right-wing parties always use the NGO as enemies to get more voters for them," said the charity's founder Axel Steier. "For the people we rescue it means more people will die because we are not there but they will come anyway. The only thing you can change is that you can make it more dangerous for the people but there is no way to stop this," he added.

Italy's right-wing transport minister Matteo Salvini has accused NGOs of aiding human trafficking and of operating a "migrant taxi service."

A diplomatic row broke out when a boat ran by French charity SOS Mediteraneé was rejected access to Italian ports. Italy's government made an example of the Ocean Viking to other European Union (EU) members. In an attempt to force France to take in the ship, Meloni prematurely announced the French had given it permission to dock. Eventually France's interior minister Gérald Darmanin said the boat's 234 passengers could disembark in Toulon but called the Italian approach irresponsible.

Giovanni Zaccheroni, from The University of Milan Bicocca's law school, told CGTN that EU asylum regulations were outdated and vague.

"The legal framework is extremely ambiguous and extremely convenient, not just for Giorgia Meloni but also for many European conservative politicians to keep things as they are right now."

Meloni's coalition has come to power with a reputation of being the most right-wing government since the end of Italian fascism. They have vowed to take a more conservative approach to social issues than the previous two governments.

Its future direction in 2023 will be guided on whether Meloni tries to be influential in shaping right-wing policies within Europe on multiculturalism, the traditional family and immigration, or if she seeks to take a more consensual political approach with liberal European Union partners.

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