The Italian Government pursued the closed-ports policy without legal action to that intent, but directly via the Interior Minister’s declarations and circulars. This “policy” was at the heart of a very particular legal dispute. The court of Agrigento determined that the Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, should be tried for kidnapping. However, since Salvini was a government Minister, the accusations against him were put to members of the Senate Chamber, who subsequently voted for the proceedings to be halted. Even in this case, the debate in the Senate is an eye-opening key to understand what is at stake.
The “tug-of-war” for the territorial relocation of migrants within the EU has in effect led to a docking blockade against NGO and coastal guard ships carrying migrants rescued along the central Mediterranean route. Italy has seen various “sea crises” over the last two years. These have been resolved – particularly in 2019 – by vessels re-routing to other ports (cf. Malta and Spain) or with a share of migrants landed and redistributted across other Member States. The associated territorial transfers have been made through negotiations decided on a case-by-case basis in situations that are politically tense (tensions between Member States), with a backdrop of increasing vulnerability of migrants who, on average, have been kept an additional nine days off the coast before being allowed to disembark.
The ISPI (Istituto per gli studi di politica internazionale) has calculated that of the 1,346 people landed in Italy after an initial port blockade, only 3.9% of them (593 individuals) were actually relocated. Interestingly, between June 2018 and August 2019, another 15,095 people autonomously landed on the coast using small boats of their own (Villa, Corradi, 2019).
Villa, M, Corradi, E. (2019), Migranti e Ue: cosa serve sapere sul vertice di Malta, https://www.ispionline.it/it/pubblicazione/migranti-e-ue-cosa-serve-sapere-sul-vertice-di-malta-23970.