Italy has stepped up pressure on fellow EU nations to open their ports to migrants rescued by humanitarian ships as political tension simmers in the Italian government’s coalition over a sharply rising number of arrivals this summer on the country’s southern shores.
The office of interior minister Luciana Lamorgese said she had a long telephone conversation with the European Union’s internal affairs commissioner, Ylva Johansson.
Political and economic crises in Tunisia are feeding steadily increasing streams of migrants determined to reach Europe, many of whom set out in smugglers’ boats from Libya.
The Italian interior ministry’s statement said those factors figured in Ms Lamorgese’s request for “an urgent change of direction in the interventions of the Union’s migratory policy”.
In May and June, the number of migrants who reached Italian shores more than tripled compared with the previous year’s figure, according to the ministry’s count. In July, the year-to-year difference was less marked — 8,600 in 2021 compared with 7,000 in 2020.
But so far August has seen charity boats carrying the flags of France and Germany rescue hundreds of migrants from unseaworthy boats launched by human traffickers.
Currently some 800 rescued passengers are awaiting permission from Italy or Malta to enter a safe port and dock. Hundreds more in recent days, including from Tunisia, have reached Sardinia or the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa unaided.
What are we waiting for, that they become 100,000?Right-wing leader Matteo Salvini
The island’s residence for newly arrived migrants seeking asylum hold some 250 people, but repeatedly, the number of occupants has swelled beyond 1,000.
Italy on Wednesday requested “immediate, even temporary, activation of a mechanism that involves the member states to allow for docking that is safe and compatible with anti-Covid-19 measures, to NGO ships flying European banners” and which are carrying out search-and-rescue operations in international waters, the ministry said.
Right-wing leader Matteo Salvini, whose anti-migrant League party is a prominent partner in premier Mario Draghi’s coalition, has been increasingly forceful in his criticism of Italy’s management of migration.
“I am convinced that Draghi will wake up Lamorgese,” Mr Salvini said earlier this week after talks with the premier. Ms Lamorgese is a career interior ministry official who was tapped by the premier for the post when he formed his pandemic-unity government in February.
Mr Salvini noted that in the first seven months of 2021, nearly 30,000 migrants have stepped ashore in Italy, roughly double the number in the previous year’s same period.
“What are we waiting for, that they become 100,000?” Mr Salvini told reporters.