By Mediterranea Saving Humans

As accustomed as we are to the bizarre, inappropriate and sometimes offensive statements of the Italian Minister of the Interior, the sentence pronounced by Matteo Piantedosi last March 25th in front of the ‘School of Political Education’ of the racist Lega party aroused bitter irony. In fact, in answering the question “why so many landings of migrants especially in Italy?”, the minister said that, unlike other European countries that have been united in rejecting migrants, “there is also the attractive factor of a public opinion that includes the acceptance of this phenomenon.” We think that Piantedosi’s words should instead be taken seriously, because they are an explicit admission of the temporary failure of the current government’s racist propaganda of closure and exclusion. The open and welcoming orientation of Italian public opinion comes from afar, but it has certainly been confirmed and strengthened by what we have called here the “Cutro effect” (Echoes#5, March 2023). And the current social atmosphere is certainly different from what it was in the summer of 2018, at the beginning of the “closed ports” policy.

It is undoubtedly a matter of taking into account a multiplicity of other factors, but it is clear that, at this stage, after the Cutro massacre, the Italian government must try to avoid the deaths at sea of people on the move, because politically it would risk paying too high a price in terms of consensus. This explains why the orders of politicians cannot prevent the Italian Coast Guard from operating extensively with rescues inside and often outside their SAR zone of competence. This as we have seen in recent weeks with direct activity along the route from Tunisia to south-west of the island of Lampedusa or on the route from eastern Libya (Cyrenaica), also with the coordination of merchant vessels by MRCC Rome and the subsequent transshipments and disembarkations of people in Italy.

Of course, strategically their policy does not change. On the contrary. On land as well as at sea. The violent externalisation of the management of the European borders remains the guiding star for the Italian government, as well as the governments of other member states and EU institutions. A frenetic diplomatic and police activity is underway to strengthen and extend the business model to eastern Libya and Tunisia, already applied from 2017 onwards with the militias connected to the Tripoli government – meaning support, funding and cooperation with local authorities aimed at preventing departures, more interceptions and captures at sea, and the consequential deportations back to detention camps. This is the significance of General Haftar’s meeting with Prime Minister Meloni in Rome on May 4th, and Minister Piantedosi’s visit to President Saïed in Tunis on May 15th. For the moment, for eastern Libya and Tunisia, it is not yet yielding the inhuman results hoped for by the government, but that is their perspective. Against the ships of the civil fleet, they are attempting all kinds of hindrances, starting with the tactic of “distant ports” and temporary seizures.

Similarly, with the shameful “Cutro” decree they would also like to operate on land: introducing new forms of criminalization, dramatically reducing the granting of residence permits in Italy for “special protection”, spreading the hot-spot model, multiplying the administrative detention centres (CPR) with the aim of having one in every Italian region, and incentivising and organising more repatriations and deportations to so-called “safe countries”.

But even here the contradiction is at work. With the declaration of a “state of emergency” (April 11th, 2023) once again, the government wants to affirm the character of exceptionality in the management of immigration as an “invasion” and a problem of public order, and to equip themselves with more authoritarian instruments to deal with it. But at the same time, with the measures announced and the involvement of the Civil Protection Department and the Red Cross to manage arrivals on Lampedusa, the demands of the Maldusa project and other non-institutional actors operating on the island for a dignified reception and rapid transfers to the continent could even become reality.

This accumulation of contradictions seems to describe a contradictory scenario in Italy. For it is under the most right-wing government in the history of the Republic, led by (post)fascist proponents, champions of “ethnic replacement” propaganda, that a significant number of arrivals are being recorded on Italian shores. How can the ambivalence of the current scenario in the central Mediterranean can be explained?

The global context of war and multiple crises (climate and energy, economic, food and social) nourish the autonomy and endurance of the people on the move, an articulate and multiform collective intelligence capable of continually challenging the border regime, as in an ungovernable cat-and-mouse contest. In connection with this, the bottom-up construction of social infrastructures for the freedom of movement has developed and is developing a growing capacity for monitoring and observation, increasingly able of timely intervention in pointing out rights violations by states and governments. Every single life saved is fundamental, but in this sense the action of the civil fleet shows its crucial effectiveness not so much in the statistics of people rescued directly at sea, but in its permanent capacity to denounce and continuously put pressure on the institutional authorities, as a sort of dynamic “counter-power”. Finally, as noted above, the multiplicity of solidarity voices – from very different cultural and religious, social and political backgrounds – builds that “welcoming public opinion” that functions as a veritable watchdog of government policies.

It is then at the heart of these contradictions that, at sea as on land, a new grassroots migration policy can counter the terrible burden of suffering and death that European states and governments would like to continue to impose.

Article published in Echoes#6