Theo Francken, the State secretary for migration and asylum, has come out to defend the Italian migration policy.
After weeks and weeks of negotiations, both the 5 stars and the Lega recently formed an ‘anti-establishment government’ in Italy. The Lega, which is clearly a Euroskeptical and anti-migration political party, is determined to limit the entrance of refugees and migrants to Italy.
Last week’s example of the rescue ship Aquarius, which was refused to access the Italian coasts, definitely sent a signal to the whole Europe. And although this decision was criticised by many political stakeholders across the Old Continent, dozens of populists expressed their support to the Italian authorities.
Since Theo Francken has been part of the Belgian Federal government, he has been involved in several very controversial speeches and statements with regard to migration and refugees. Even some of the N-VA leaders and members of the Federal governments have expressed their concerns about his stances.
The recent interviews and statements Mr. Francken made in the Italian newspapers are therefore not really a surprise.
On 5 June, he firstly gave his support to the newly formed Italian government in the Italian version of Huffington Post. After he stated he was following Matteo Salvini, the Italian minister for Home affairs and leader of the Lega, “for months”, he added he wanted the Italian government to “strengthen the migration policy”. “It’s good if Italy starts refusing migrants on their coasts, and does not let them enter Sicily”, he said.
He went further last week in Il Giornale, by advocating for “refugee camps in North Africa”, with reference to the Italian decision on Aquarius. “We must start sending back the boats that cross the Mediterranean Sea”, he added, before pointing out human traffics and mafia networks with that regard.
Whether you agree or disagree with the pro-migration or anti-migration policies, such statements are quite concerning ahead of the upcoming European elections next year. Populism is rising across Europe, and the populist leaders now can collaborate on specific policies.
And even if the newly formed Spanish government finally decided to host the Aquarius last week, some of the European reactions clearly showed a support to anti-human behaviours. The French government, instead of welcoming the boat, indeed pointed out the Italian responsibility, while Charles Michel, the Belgian Prime Minister, had a controversial joke on it. “Belgium has no port in the Mediterranean Sea”, he said.