Revisiting Italy’s Migrant Embarkation: Will Good Intentions Be Drowned by Poor Measures?

Around 81 survivors were saved on Southern Italy’s Coast after embarkation crashed onto rocks during a storm on Sunday, 26th February. The embarkation carried around 200 people, all from the Middle East seeking refuge in Europe. This event comes after the passing of a controversial law that critics call the “wrong way” to address Europe’s migratory crisis.

Recent legislation has marked a significant departure from traditional migrant rescue protocols. Ships are now obligated to request port access “without delay” following rescues. Failure to comply with this new law could result in severe consequences, including hefty fines and impounding of vessels. Captains who refuse to abide can face a fine of around 50,000 euros and will get the boat impounded if it occurs repeatedly.

Giorgia Meloni’s government stated that the only way to tackle the migrant boat crisis “seriously” and with “humanity” is to altogether stop migrant boat journeys. Yet, critics such as N.G.O.s and the United Nations (U.N.) condemn such supposition, claiming refugees will keep trying regardless of restrictions.

The Italian government’s bold assumption that migrants will cease risking their lives by embarking on treacherous boat journeys to reach Europe remains to be seen, especially considering the ongoing crisis driving people to flee from their homes. The journey presents risk which they perceive as a better alternative to their experiences back home. Instead of letting migrant rescue boats maximize the number of lives they can save, the government is limiting such efforts. Even if Meloni’s goal is to avoid accidents like this and save lives, better alternatives need to be sought.

Meloni, an extreme-right politician elected as prime minister in September last year, has had constant clashes with the mainstream European Union (E.U.) bloc and its leaders. With the supposed risk of Italy becoming the “refugee camp” of Europe, Meloni has engaged in practices that go against both international and European law in this matter. In the very first weeks of Italy’s new government, Meloni refused to accept a rescue ship carrying 230 refugees, ignoring the fact that European regulations require a rescue ship to be accepted in the nearest E.U. port. With no option left, France called Meloni’s decisions “inhumane”, opened its ports, and allowed the refugees to disembark. Since then, diplomatic tensions between Paris and Rome have been tense.

Even though Italy’s policy actions are strongly contested by both the European and international community, the country needs some relief as one of the principal ports of entry for Middle East and African refugees to Europe. The E.U. needs to find a way to distribute the number of refugees throughout its territory. If such a distribution is in place, Meloni’s government might take a more lenient stand on refugee rescue and eventual reception.

This dramatic shift has far-reaching implications for the safety and well-being of migrants seeking refuge and underscores the pressing need for effective and equitable migration policies. For now, N.G.O.s such as S.O.S. Méditerranée and the U.N. are trying to challenge such laws in both European and abroad, hoping to avoid a repeat of deadly accidents like this one.