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Italy premier Meloni vows tough action to stop migrant arrivals

Meloni seeks EU help to block migrant crossings.

The Italian government is ready to introduce "extraordinary measures" to deal with a surge of migrant arrivals, premier Giorgia Meloni pledged in a video on Friday night.

Claiming the pressure on Italy from migrants was "unsustainable", Meloni called for a joint response from the European Union, including "a naval mission if necessary" to stop migrant crossings from north Africa.

Meloni was speaking in response to the record numbers of migrant landings this week on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa which is struggling to cope with the influx.

The premier said she has invited EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen to travel with her to Lampedusa to see the situation first-hand, as well as asking European Council president Charles Michel to put immigration on the agenda of an EU summit next month.

Meloni also called on the European Commission to immediately transfer €250 million to Tunisia as part of a recent deal she helped to broker with the north African state to stem migrant flows across the Mediterranean.

She said the cabinet would pass emergency measures on Monday including raising the detention limit for those who enter Italy illegally to 18 months and mandating the army to build larger reception centres for illegal immigrants "in places with very low population density". 

The number of migrant arrivals in Italy since the start of this year is nearly 126,000, almost double the figure during the same time frame in 2022, presenting political difficulty for Meloni's right-wing administration which came to power almost a year ago vowing to crack down on illegal immigration.

Lampedusa, which has a population of 6,000 permanent residents and is closer to Africa than the Italian mainland, has been at the centre of the immigration debate for more than a decade.

Next month marks the 10th anniversary of a migrant boat tragedy off Lampedusa, in which 366 people drowned on 3 October 2013, putting the tiny island in the international spotlight.

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