Italy’s government plans to throw more resources into its fight against boat migrants, an official said, as the number of new arrivals gathers speed, putting pressure on Interior Minister Matteo Salvini.
Almost 50 migrants were brought ashore before dawn by an Italian police patrol vessel, while a charity ship rebuffed by Italy picked up 44 people in the central Mediterranean for transfer to Malta later in the day.
After a sharp fall in migrant arrivals in recent months, numbers have picked up since June, with people smugglers increasingly towing packed boats into international waters to escape especially the Italian-funded Libyan coastguard.
Previously, under-powered rubber dinghies were pushed to sea from local beaches, making it relatively easy for Libya to stop them before they exited territorial waters.
To clamp down on this, Italy plans to boost its own sea and air patrols to spot traffickers before they leave local waters and will give 10 motorboats to the Libyan coastguard.
Salvini, who built much of his political credibility on a drive to halt migrant flows, wrote to his Tunisian counterpart urging him to do more to stop departures from Tunisia and to swiftly accept back those caught fleeing.
Over the past 18 months, the largest number of migrants entering Italy are from Tunisia, a change from previous years when new arrivals were mainly from sub-Saharan Africa.
TUNISIANS TOP MIGRANT LIST
Since the start of 2019, more than three thousand migrants have reached Italy, with nationals from Tunisia topping the list, followed by Pakistan, Ivory Coast, Algeria, Iraq and Bangladesh.
More than two thirds of them were picked up at sea relatively close to land by the Italian navy and coastguard or e came directly to shore.
Only three hundred have been transferred to Italy so far this year by charity rescue ships following moves by Salvini to shut the nation’s ports to non-governmental organisations.
Two boats defied the ban over the past two weeks, bringing migrants to Lampedusa. The German-flagged Sea-Watch 3 and Italian sailboat Alex were both impounded and the owners face fines of around 50,000 euros ($56,000).
The Sea-Watch charity saw donations surge in the wake of this showdown and a government official, who declined to be named, said Salvini wanted to hike potential fines to a million euros to counter this.
It was not clear if his coalition partner, the 5-Star Movement, would accept the increase. Salvini complained at the weekend that 5-Star ministers were not helping sufficiently to tackle seaborne migrants, saying he felt “left alone”.
“Salvini feels alone? Then let’s send him a teddy bear,” 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio said.
Looking to smooth the friction, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte called a meeting of ministers for Wednesday.
“The meeting was convened to co-ordinate action by the various ministers and to avoid overlaps or misunderstandings,” Conte’s office said in a statement.