Giorgia Meloni's Italian election win renews spotlight on Europe's continued migrant woes

Giorgia Meloni’s Italian election win renews spotlight on Europe’s continued migrant woes

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The earthquake victory of Italian right-wing leader Giorgia Meloni’s party in the country’s recent elections has again renewed the spotlight on Europe’s ongoing migrant crisis, which continues to have political implications across the continent.

Meloni’s Brothers of Italy won the votes in Italy’s national elections are likely to form a government with coalition partners League and Forza Italia — both right-wing parties. The prospect of a right-wing coalition government in Italy has sent political shockwaves through the continent.

Meloni campaigned on multiple issues, including the role of the family, protecting Italian national identity as well as economic and energy issues — but the fight over illegal immigration has remained a key campaign issue for years for the Italian right.

Both the Brothers of Italy and the League have consistently made border security and combating illegal immigration a cornerstone of their campaign platforms. With Italy on the front lines of the migrant flows coming across from Africa, those campaign promises have resonated with voters.

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Brothers of Italy’s leader Giorgia Meloni speaks to the media at her party’s electoral headquarters in Rome, early Monday, Sept. 26, 2022.
(AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Italy has for years struggled to confront the traffic of migrant boats, often aided by non-governmental organizations, coming across the Mediterranean from North Africa. The issue was highlighted during the initial 2015 migrant crisis, but while those numbers have slowed from that continent-wide crisis, they are still a thorny political issue in countries like Italy.

According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, there have been 67,851 migrant arrivals by sea in Italy alone so far this year, compared to 44,152 over the same period last year — an increase of more than 50%. Egypt, Tunisia and Bangladesh are the top three countries of origin for migrants and of those arriving, 75% are adult males.

When the League was a minority party in the 2018-19 government, leader Matteo Salvini served as interior minister and took a number of aggressive actions against illegal migration — including blocking NGO rescue boats from docking in Italy, for which he is still on trial for charges related to kidnapping.

Meloni has called for similar policies, slamming the effort to turn Italy into what she calls Europe’s “refugee camp” and promising to form a naval blockade to prevent the migrant boats and protect Italy from “unchecked immigration.” She has also proposed screening migrants in Africa before they set off on boats to Italy.

“The smart approach is: You come to my house according to my rules,” she told The Washington Post earlier this month. She has also taken a more ideological approach to the debate, saying that “nations only exist if there are borders, and if those are defended.”

“Letting in hundreds of thousands of people, then keeping them pushing drugs or being forced to prostitute themselves at the margins of our society isn’t solidarity,” she said.

Meloni is also likely to push the E.U. to do more to help with the crisis Italy is facing. Those calls will not be unique to Meloni’s government. Center-left Prime Minister Mario Draghi had also urged the European Union to do more to help countries respond to the migrant waves head on.

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Migrants from Tunisia and Lybia arrive onboard of an Italian Guardia Costiera (Coast Guard) boat in the Italian Pelagie Island of Lampedusa on August 1, 2020.

Migrants from Tunisia and Lybia arrive onboard of an Italian Guardia Costiera (Coast Guard) boat in the Italian Pelagie Island of Lampedusa on August 1, 2020.
((Photo by ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP via Getty Images))

The problem of migration is not only have a political impact on Italy. Earlier this month in Sweden, a surge in support for the right-wing Sweden Democrats toppled the ruling center-left government and made them the second-largest political party

The Sweden Democrats had campaigned on limiting immigration, which has become a top issue amid a related spike in crime and gang shootings. Sweden had accepted a significant number of migrants during the 2015 migrant crisis. The leader of the Sweden Democrats, Jimmie Akesson, has described Islamic migration as the biggest foreign policy threat to Sweden since World War II.

Other countries are taking measures of their own to combat a continued concern of massive numbers of migration. French President Emmanuel Macron has moved to the right on the issue as he fended off a close challenge from French right-wing challenger Marine Le Pen this year. Macron has promised to enforce laws to make it easier to deport failed asylum seekers and the French government has recently begun moving forward on legislation.

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In the U.K., the ruling Conservative government is facing historic levels of migration coming across the English Channel by boat from France.

The government has introduced a new policy which would see migrants deported to Rwanda to claim asylum instead. But so far that policy has been blocked by court challenges. The government has pledged to fight to implement the policy.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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