The Malta Independent 4 October 2022, Tuesday
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TMID Editorial: How election in Italy can affect Malta

Wednesday, 10 August 2022, 08:22 Last update: about 3 months ago

A general election will be held in Italy in September, earlier than anticipated.

Once again, the Italians are called to select their representatives, and the outcome of the election will also have a bearing on Malta, at least where irregular migration is involved.

Malta is intrinsically linked with Italy, and other southern Mediterranean counties, in this regard. Too often, the European Union has failed to understand the implications of having to deal with the influx of so many migrants towards our shores, coming from North Africa. The EU pledged commitment many times, but help did not come by, at least not in the way we expected.

Malta has had its fair share of disputes with Italy on migration matters. There were times when the two countries seemed in agreement on the way to proceed, but then comes one incident which sparks a clash which dampens the relationship.

Migration issues are top of the agenda as the Italians prepare to vote, with former Interior Minister Matteo Salvini taking a hardline approach in his promises.

Last week, Salvini pledged to move screening centres for people seeking political asylum to northern Africa, in a bid to prevent economic migrants from pouring into Italy. He said just 15% of current arrivals qualify as refugees.

He also voiced concern that the migrant centre on Lampedusa was nearing collapse due to overcrowding, calling it “unworthy of a civilised country”.

Salvini distinguished between those who qualify for asylum, saying “they cannot be massed on the ground on mattresses in 40-degree heat″; and those who do not: “We cannot throw open the doors of Italy to thousands of clandestine migrants who are not fleeing war,” he said.

During Salvini’s short tenure as interior minister in 2018-19, migrant arrivals in Italy dropped sharply as he pursued policies of deterrence, including long government delays in assigning safe ports to rescue ships.

“I think in 2018-2019 Italy was a safer country, more protected, more normal, more European,” Salvini said. ”Lampedusa is the gateway of Europe. It cannot be the refugee camp of Europe.”

Malta had its fair share of trouble when Salvini was responsible for home affairs in Italy. The stand-off on 249 migrants in late 2018 and early 2019 is just one example. That time, an ad hoc solution was found, with the stranded migrants distributed among eight European nations.

But migration from Africa towards Europe remains a phenomenon that the EU has failed to deal with in more permanent terms.

Whether Salvini will be part of the Italian government and, if so, whether he will manage to implement his pledge to move screening centres to North Africa remains to be seen.

What is sure is that the European Union should seek ways to address irregular migration much better than it has done in the past. The war in Ukraine has given other migration priorities to the EU, but it should never forget that, week after week, the southern Mediterranean continues to deal with a heavy influx of migrants too.

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