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President Meloni’s press statement during her visit to Lampedusa with President von der Leyen

Sunday, 17 September 2023

Thank you for being here. As you have seen, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, immediately accepted my invitation to come here to Lampedusa to see the situation for herself.      

I want to say that I do not consider this to be so much a European gesture of solidarity towards Italy, but rather a responsible gesture by Europe towards itself, because these are Italy’s borders but they are Europe’s borders too.

If anyone in Europe were to think that the global crisis we are facing could be solved by simply closing it within Italy’s borders, then they would be mistaken. The scale of the migration flows we are facing is such that, if we don’t work seriously and all together in combating illegal departures, this phenomenon’s numbers will overwhelm the border states first, but then all the others too. It is therefore a problem that inevitably involves everyone, that must be addressed by everyone, and I believe President of the European Commission von der Leyen being here this morning gives a sign of this awareness.

What is at stake here is the future that Europe wants for itself, because Europe’s future depends on its ability to address the great, epoch-making challenges of our time, and illegal immigration is undoubtedly one of them. President von der Leyen knows this very well, which is why I also want to say that she has been cooperative since the beginning of our work, I have always found her to be cooperative, and I believe this is very important.

Serious, complex and lasting solutions are needed, and we also need to all work in the same direction. There wouldn’t be much point in having part of Europe being committed and working to find solutions, while another part of Europe, for ideological reasons, works to dismantle that work and those solutions.

I keep saying that, considering the flows that Italy is facing, that Europe is facing, we will never solve the problem by talking about how to redistribute migrants within Europe’s borders. The only way to seriously address the problem, and to not have the solution for one nation creating problems for another nation, is to work on the external dimension and stop the illegal departures of immigrants. This is what European citizens are asking of us, but it is also what regular immigrants are asking of us – the many regular immigrants who live in Europe. It is what refugees are asking of us, those who really have the right to be a refugee, because we have not always been able to take care of everyone, also because of our problem with illegal immigration.
What are these solutions, these proposals? Those that Italy has been pursuing since the new Government came into office and on which we have found common work with the President of the European Commission: structural agreements with countries in North Africa to stop the departures, also to avoid the dramatic deaths at sea; a more effective fight against human traffickers, also by standardising legislation in the countries involved - as you will remember, we organised a conference on development and migration with all countries of the wider Mediterranean, also and above all to work on this front; legal immigration quotas agreed mainly with countries that cooperate in combatting illegal migration; an effective European naval mission to combat the smugglers and irregular departures; more efficient tools to return illegal immigrants, put in place by the European Union and not by individual nation states. In addition, I also believe that greater UN involvement is absolutely necessary at this point, which is something we will be talking about this week.

The first sign of this strategy, which is shared by the European Union, by the European Council - as stated in the Council conclusions - is the Memorandum of Understanding we signed with Tunisia. This is a very important sign, for which I wish to thank Ursula von der Leyen, and today we must manage to quickly and effectively implement that Memorandum which may be the first of other agreements with other North African countries, as the President has also said. This also shows a Europe that offers its contribution while asking for a contribution of responsibility in return.

We will be bringing these issues to the next European Council meeting in October. I am confident that the solutions will arrive, also because I have spoken with several leaders over the last few days and I am optimistic about the fact that Italy’s position, which I have told you about, is widely shared also within the European Council.
In the meantime I can confirm that we will be bringing a regulation to tomorrow’s Council of Ministers meeting to extend detainment to the maximum permitted by European rules, for the purpose of returning those who enter Italy illegally, and we will be giving a mandate to the Ministry of Defence to take immediate action to get the necessary facilities in place.

In closing, I wish to thank the European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, who has come here today to accompany President von der Leyen, Minister of the Interior Piantedosi, Regional President Renato Schifani, and the Deputy Mayor of Lampedusa, thanking also the people of Lampedusa, whom we spoke with this morning. These people have always had to face an extremely difficult situation, and we keep finding very responsible, very nice people. I was pleased to also have the chance to meet and talk with them. We are committed to improving their conditions on the island. We have already done so, as you know, with a EUR 45 million investment for the island, for the very purpose of helping to centrally manage a number of issues that the municipal administration, being so small, may not have the necessary resources and tools to handle. I really want to thank them, also for their welcome at such a difficult time.

[Courtesy translation]