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Two Former Ministers Of The Interior Warn: The Closing Of Certain Migrant Routes Means That Slovenia Could Become A “Migrant Pocket”

“We stop being hostage to these foreign and private non-governmental organisations that organise the routes, the traffic, the transport and the migratory policies,” the Deputy Prime Minister of Italy, Matteo Salvini, recently said. He has been dealing with the issue of illegal migration since his days as the Minister of the Interior, and he also announced that Italy will no longer be a European refugee haven. The new Italian government of Giorgia Meloni announced some time ago that it would step up its efforts to prevent boats filled with migrants from leaving North Africa for Southern Italy. “Rescuing people and humanitarian actions are important, but we will do everything we can to prevent the dangerous crossing of the sea that often ends tragically,” said Italy’s new Minister of the Interior, Matteo Piantedosi. Thus, on Friday, Italy adopted a measure formalising the closure of ports for migrant boats.

The new Italian government adopted a measure on Friday, formalising the closure of its ports to migrant boats run by NGOs – more than 1,000 migrants are believed to be stranded on four European charity boats in the Mediterranean Sea. Humanity 1 and Rise Above, un by separate German humanitarian groups, have applied for permission to dock in Italian ports, and Italian Minister of the Interior Matteo Piantedosi said that Humanity 1, run by the German organisation SOS Humanitarian will only be allowed to stay in Italian waters long enough to disembark minors and people in need of urgent medical assistance. The measure was approved after Germany and France called on Rome to provide a safe harbour for migrants and said they would accept some of the migrants so that Italy would not have to bear the burden alone. The new Italian government insists that the countries whose flag the charity ships fly must take in the migrants.

Minister of Infrastructure Matteo Salvini welcomed the new directive in a Facebook video, writing: Finally, back to defending the borders and laws of our country. “We stop being hostage to these foreign and private NGOs that organise the routes, the traffic, the transport and the migratory policies,” Salvini said, adding that they will, as always, provide rescue and assistance but that foreign NGOs are now banned from stopping in Italian territorial waters. NGOs strongly opposed the ruling, saying that Italy is obliged under maritime law to rescue people in distress – which is, of course, true in the case of legal transport and actual distress – a point also confirmed by maritime law expert Dr Miha Pogačnik. In the cases in question, however, it should be noted that there is no distress, or if there is, it is artificially created. Distress at sea occurs when a vessel is caught by a storm, struck by lightning, or when the engine breaks down – and the illegal migrants in question should not even be on board these boats, according to the rules. If someone takes illegal migrants on board of a vessel, probably earning money in the process, and brings them to the coast of Italy, this cannot be considered distress at sea. This is also true because the boat can turn around at any time and return to where it came from. But that is clearly not in their interest because the ships have been circling off the Italian coast for about two weeks now. Will they try their luck in the Port of Koper next time?

The announcement of port closures alone has reduced the number of illegal migrants
The Italian government’s announcement about the closure of ports alone has already triggered reactions in the world where illegal migrants come from – similar to the reactions triggered by Prime Minister Robert Golob’s announcement that we will tear down the fence in Slovenia – except that the reactions were opposite, said former Minister of the Interior, Dr Vinko Gorenak. “When Salvini, who was still the Minister of the Interior back then, announced a few years ago that ports would soon close for shops carrying illegal migrants, his announcement alone reduced the number of illegal migrants by more than half,” Gorenak pointed out, explaining that today, word gets around fast, both to those who deal with illegal migration and to those who are involved in illegal migration. According to Gorenak, the Italian government’s announcement means that the flow of illegal migration will soon be reduced – at least through the sea route to Italy, while all those routes that are still open will be reinforced. For example, the routes to Slovenia, where, in fact, we have said that migrants are welcome. So, in addition to the Balkan route, we can expect pressure on Greece, Spain and France.

Slovenia could become a “migrant pocket” in the coming months
“As expected, the new Italian government has also brought about a different situation or a different policy regarding illegal migrants,” commented former Minister of the Interior Aleš Hojs, who predicted that in the coming days, Italy will continue with the closing of the possibility of direct disembarkations of migrants being taken to Italian ports by German ships – a move that will further intensify the tensions and strains on the European political floor between the two countries. At the same time, according to Hojs, the new Italian policy is also a bad sign for us, considering what our current government is doing. “Or it could be taken as a good sign because some of us have been warning all along that this illegal flow of migration through Slovenia into Italy is something that the Italian state will clearly resist in the next phase,” Hojs said, continuing: “As many of us have warned, the removal of the fence on our southern border was a very short-sighted and, of course, inappropriate political decision, but one that could result in what many of us fear – that Slovenia could become a sort of ‘migrant pocket’ in the coming months, once the border on the Italian side will be guarded even more intensely.” It could happen that all migrants will then remain in our country, potentially posing huge security risks – we cannot even imagine what all this could entail, really. At the moment, most migrants are still taking the shortest possible route through Slovenia to other countries, including Italy. The Italian authorities are aware of this, and the question is how much longer they will tolerate it.

Migrants can leave the asylum centre at any time – for now, most of them are still moving on and leaving Slovenia
The worst year for illegal migration in Slovenia was 2000, when Slovenian police apprehended around 35 000 illegal migrants, which was a record high. It should also be noted that the police record around 15, maybe 20 percent of the actual situation. This year, we are already approaching the number 20 000, which means that we are rapidly approaching the record year of 2000. It should also be made clear that European legislation is clear when it comes to the question of entry of illegal migrants into the country. If a migrant expresses the need for asylum, a police officer is obliged to conduct an interview to determine whether the person is genuinely eligible for asylum. If it turns out that they are, the migrant is sent to an asylum centre, which is, of course, open – it is more like a hotel than a prison – so migrants can leave the centre at any time. If the police find that the person is not eligible for asylum, the migrant goes to a police prison in Postojna, from where he or she is returned to the country of origin. Until now, Slovenia has been lucky not to have been the target destination of migrants, but our country is now increasingly becoming just that.

Sara Bertoncelj

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