ROME, Aug. 6 (Xinhua) — A potentially risky Senate confidence vote has upped the ante on Europe’s strictest anti-migrant laws, allowing Italian authorities to fine captains of migrant vessels as much as 1 million euros (1.1 million U.S. dollars) if they enter Italian ports with migrants aboard their ships.
The draconian move came after the number of migrants arriving in Italy by sea had been reduced to historically low numbers.
It also came just three days after President-elect of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen made conciliatory remarks in Rome, indicating the commission would be willing to meet some of Italy’s long-standing demands for more burden-sharing on migrant issues.
Analysts were surprised by the severity of the measure, billed by Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini as a “security decree.”
“This step from the Italian government is very worrying; every country should be concerned,” Barbara Molinario from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, told Xinhua. “There’s no emergency with migrant arrivals and this just makes it more likely many more people will die at sea.”
Since the government of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte came into power 14 months ago, Salvini — head of the League, the anti-migrant political party — has made Italian anti-migrant laws the toughest in Europe.
Under Salvini, Italy closed Italian ports to most rescue ships, while also slashing funding for migrant integration programs and backing the coast guard in Libya in an attempt to prevent migrants from setting out from that country.
As a result, just 248 migrants arrived in Italy between January and July of this year. That compares to 5,204 over the same period last year (most of which passed before the Conte government was installed June 1), and 38,747 over the same span in 2017.
“The ‘security decree’ is a solution to a problem that does not exist,” Andrea Torre, head of the Centro Studi Medi, an advocacy group that focuses on migration issues, said in an interview. “The number of migrant arrivals is so low that the only way to justify a decree like this is that it is part of the political line for the League and Salvini.”
The decree allows Italian officials to fine the captains of ships that bring rescued migrants into Italian ports for 150,000 euros (168,000 U.S. dollars) to 1 million euros (1.1 million U.S. dollars), as well as to have their ships seized. According to Italian media reports, the fines could even be levied against fishermen or recreational boaters who return to port with potential migrants.
It is not clear whether the new measure will have an impact on the views from von der Leyen, who said in Rome she wanted Europe to have migration policies that were “effective and efficient but also human” and that European Union members should “guarantee solidarity” in terms of sharing the cost and the work needed for processing migrants.
Developments could also further strain relations between the League and its coalition partner, the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement, which does not always support the League’s hardline anti-migrant stance.
The vote could have been a risky one for the League. Because the decree did not have enough support to pass via normal means, Salvini called a confidence vote. The confidence vote ultimately passed by a vote of 160 to 57, but if it had failed it would have required the Conte government to resign.