Salvini hardens his anti-immigration speech in Lampedusa to gain electoral momentum | International


Matteo Salvini was visiting the Lampedusa migrant reception center on Thursday.David Lohmueller (AP)

The island of Lampedusa — an emblem of the migratory drama, a universal badge of welcome and, at the same time, a reflection of the climate of rejection of immigration that runs through Italy — returns to the center of the electoral campaign. Matteo Salvini, leader of La Liga and former Minister of the Interior, has started his electoral tour with a two-day visit to this enclave nicknamed “the door to Europe”, which is closer to Africa than to Italy and which in the last 25 years has seen the arrival of tens of thousands of immigrants. His intention before the elections on September 25 is to once again place immigration at the center of the debate and show his teeth with a renewed harsh discourse, loaded with severe measures such as the closure of ports for NGO rescue ships.

Salvini, received between applause and whistles, has promised this Thursday to control the borders if he returns to the Government after September 25. “If the Italians want it, we will once again offer sacrosanct reception only to those who really escape the war, who are a minority of the immigrants who arrive, only about 15%”, he has claimed. The former Minister of the Interior visited the island’s reception center, with capacity for some 380 people, but which in recent weeks has housed some 1,500, on the verge of collapse. The increase in the number of arrivals from North Africa is explained, among other reasons, by the good weather. “On the island there is only one medical helicopter. If one of these migrants needs it, it will not be available to any other inhabitant of Lampedusa,” argued Salvini, who was accompanied by the island’s deputy mayor, Attilio Lucia, also from La Liga.

The politician, who is not going through his best levels of popularity, praised the immigration laws that he promoted as minister in 2018. These regulations, known as Security Decree, they provided for millions in fines for NGOs that rescue immigrants at sea and canceled various forms of humanitarian protection. Following criticism from numerous organizations, the text was abolished in 2020, after Salvini left the government.

So far this year, more than 42,000 immigrants have arrived on Italian shores, according to data from the Ministry of the Interior. This is a substantial increase compared to the more than 30,000 who landed in the country in the same period of 2021. “These figures show that something is not working,” Salvini argued.

The leader of La Liga continues to seek electoral gains in the usually troubled migratory waters. Four years ago he already conquered the vote of many Italians and multiplied the traditional results of his party. He then reached 17% of the votes, presenting himself as the strong man who championed the fight against immigration.

Rivalry with Brothers of Italy

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Now, with two different governments in between, the picture is not the same. The wind is not blowing so favorably for him. Polls place him between 12% and 13% of the vote. Meanwhile, Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy, a formation that was previously lower than in the last elections obtained 4%, will become, according to polls, the party with the most votes, with around 23.4%. Meloni and Salvini go to the polls in a coalition of the three right-wing parties, along with Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia. But, as they have recently agreed, it will be the formation with the most votes that indicates the name of the prime minister. Therefore, for the leader of La Liga it is of vital importance to overtake Meloni.

Salvini does not hide his intention that, if the right manages to form a government, his party will occupy the Ministry of the Interior to impose its immigration policies. But Meloni has stopped him in his tracks. “The government team is discussing with the coalition according to the electoral results,” he warned. The leader of the Brothers of Italy, a party that emerged from the embers of post-fascism, has even more extreme views on immigration. When Salvini spoke of closing the ports to NGO ships, she directly proposed sinking the ships of these organizations. Meloni’s referents in Europe are Poland and Hungary, increasingly questioned in the European institutions for their authoritarian drift.

But, at the same time, the migratory phenomenon has ceased to be a priority for Italians. The latest surveys indicate that they are more concerned about the increase in prices, the rise in energy prices or the impoverishment of society after the pandemic.

Lampedusa (6,000 inhabitants) is for Salvini the emblem of his strong hand as head of the Interior. But, in a certain way, it also represents the end of the xenophobic and authoritarian drift that he promoted. The farce of the closed ports began to be dismantled in July 2019, with the release of Carola Rackete, the captain of the humanitarian ship Sea Watch 3 who rebelled against Salvini’s orders and docked on the island with 40 immigrants on board. The court file of his case showed that the ports were never closed and never can be. Shortly after, another political battle between Salvini and the European Union did not go as he had hoped. Now he faces a trial accused of alleged kidnapping of people and breach of duties — crimes that could lead to 15 years in prison — for blocking in August of that same year for several days a ship of the Spanish NGO Open Arms with a hundred migrants on board. off the coast of Lampedusa.

The humanitarian organizations Médecins Sans Frontières, SOS Mediterranée and Sea Watch have denounced the absence of search and rescue operations in the Central Mediterranean by European countries. These organizations warn of the danger of new deaths. “The withdrawal of European search and rescue means, as well as delays in allocating safe places to disembark, have weakened the ability of the search and rescue system to save lives,” the three organizations said in a joint statement. In just five days in July, two boats from these NGOs rescued 1,046 people. Of these, the 659 castaways rescued by the Geo Barentsfrom Doctors Without Borders, will land in southern Italy after nine days of waiting.

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