After last November’s referendum rejection of Renzi’s constitutional amendment, the populist Five Star Movement has come to lead Italy’s opinion polls.
A few weeks before Easter the movement’s leader in Parliament, Luigi Di Maio, denounced what he called the “taxis in the Mediterranean ferrying refugees to Italy”, meaning the non-governmental humanitarian ships who have saved the lives of many desperate people. Di Maio claimed cynically that his “only wish is to save the good name of those virtuous NGOs and save lives”. His remarks were, however, aimed at winning people from the Lega Nord, whose hopes of riding to victory on the coat-tails of a Le Pen triumph in France have now been dashed.
The “substance” of what Di Maio called evidence of “collusion” between the humanitarian agencies and the Libyan traffickers purportedly came from investigations by the European coastal agency, Frontex, and he quoted the District Attorney of Catania. When asked to provide hard evidence, both Frontex and the legal worthy from Catania admitted they had none. The District Attorney added , revealingly, “there are too many people arriving on our shores. The majority of them have no right to international aid of any kind.”
A leader of one of the German NGOs active in the Mediterranean retorted that Frontex and other European-created missions like Sophia and Triton have done everything to discredit the work of the NGOs. Her remarks were seconded by other NGOs. In late 2014 the EU decided to abandon its brief period of collective European humanitarian effort, Mare Nostrum, introduced following the 370 deaths just off the beaches of the Italian island of Lampedusa in 2012. Since then the EU has adopted a policy of systematic prevention across the Mediterranean, a police profile with a diminishing dimension of rescue.
Doctors without Borders refused to participate in the EU conference in Turkey two years ago, where for three billion euros Erdogan's Turkey agreed to imprison millions of refugees in its camps. A similar exercise was repeated recently in Malta between the Italians and the Libyan government, with Italy offering the Libyans money in return for them blocking their coast.