Giorgia Meloni’s Italian government on Thursday approved a decree law that toughens penalties for human traffickers in the Mediterranean, following the shipwreck on 26 February off the coast of Calabria in which at least 72 immigrants died. The decree introduces a new type of crime, that of “death and injury for the trafficking of illegal immigrants”, and provides for sentences of up to 30 years in prison, the prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, explained at a press conference after the Council of Ministers, held in the town of Cutro, off the coast of which the shipwreck occurred.
The tragedy occurred on the night of 26 February when a wooden barge that had set sail four days earlier from Turkey sank a few metres off the Italian coast, causing at least 72 deaths, according to the still-provisional balance sheet.
In the wake of the disaster, three traffickers working for the criminal organisations that profit from these dangerous and inhumane journeys to Europe were arrested: a Turk and two Pakistanis, one of them a minor.
The new doctrine, Meloni explained, will assume this new crime as “universal” and will be prosecuted “even if it is committed outside national borders”. “We take this decision to make clear our determination to defeat human trafficking, which is responsible for this tragedy. Our response is a policy of greater firmness,” he said of the decree law (which comes into force automatically but must be approved by parliament within 60 days).
Justice Minister Carlo Nordio said that this “increase in Italian jurisdiction” will mean that if a captured smuggler caused injury or death to a migrant during the crossing, he or she will be subject to this new type of aggravated offence.
In the decree there are rules aimed at simplifying the expulsion process, others to improve stay centres for repatriation, and instruments to intervene in the case of opaque management of migrant reception centres.
The government also reactivated the so-called “Flow Decrees”, which establish quotas for legal entry for work purposes according to market requirements. “It is not advisable to enter Italy illegally, it is not advisable to pay traffickers, it is not advisable to risk your life”, Meloni urged.
On the other hand, the renewal of residence permits will be extended to five years, said Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi.
Meloni decided to hold the Council of Ministers “symbolically” in this town in far-off Calabria, where she was received by the locals with applause. The government unveiled a plaque in the town hall commemorating the victims of the shipwreck.