Italy’s right has “applauded” Prime Minister Rishi Sunak‘s vow to crack down on illegal boat crossings to the UK as the country introduces its own tough new measures on migrants arriving via the Mediterranean.
Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni‘s government has announced plans including 30-year jail sentences for people smugglers and measures boosting legal routes for workers to reach Italy.
Lorenzo Castellani, a professor of political science at Rome’s LUISS university, told i: “Politically, the two governments are similar. They have both taken a strong line. They are speaking to similar electorates.
“Sunak is the son of immigrants; he is not a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant. The right has really applauded Sunak because Sunak’s example helps them make the point that taking a strong line on migration is not racist, but objectively necessary.”
Italy’s government met in the Calabrian town of Cutro on Thursday to announce the plans just days after Mr Sunak unveiled his proposed migration bill that would bar entry to asylum seekers who reach the UK by boat.
The Italian decree came after an overcrowded migrant boat sank off the coast of Steccato di Cutro in Calabria on 26 February, killing at least 76 in one of the worst tragedies of its kind in recent years.
“The shipwreck marks the most difficult moment in the four months of this government,” Mr Castellani said. “This tragedy reveals the problems the government has with managing the flow of migrants.”
Dozens of local residents and family members of the deceased gathered in Cutro to protest as the ministers arrived to announce the policy, with some throwing teddy bears at the passing cars and others holding up signs reading “they could have been saved”.
On Saturday, an estimated 5,000 demonstrators holding flags and wreaths marched along Cutro beach, calling for an immediate end to migrant deaths in boat crossings.
“We are still gathering the dead, with around 20 people from the boat still missing,” Filly Pollinzi, vice mayor of the Calabrian town of Catanzaro, who attended the march, told i. “Yesterday we found three bodies, including that of a six-month-old child.”
Public prosecutors are investigating the disaster following claims the Italian government did not act quickly enough to save the migrants.
Ms Meloni’s government has repeatedly denied responsibility for the tragedy and hinted it could open new legal routes to reach Italy safely.
The leader swept to power in September promising to come down hard on illegal migration to the country. Matteo Piantedosi, the interior minister, announced new measures in January discouraging the work of charity rescue boats.
The number of Mediterranean boat crossings has soared in recent years, from 34,000 in 2020 to 67,000 in 2021 and over 100,000 in 2022.
Deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini joined a chorus of right wing politicians in Europe praising Mr Sunak for his plans, describing them as “harsh but fair”.
Mr Castellani noted that there were similarities between Italy and the UK’s stances on migration.
Yet Mr Sunak has taken a tougher stance than Ms Meloni, Mr Castellani argues, with British PM promising to detain or deport migrants while Italy’s PM has called for other EU countries to help with redistributing newcomers.
“The UK has communicated its position clearly and forcefully,” Mr Castellani said. “The fact is that Italy is saving hundreds of migrants every day.”