Illegal migration is harming all Mediterranean countries, said Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on Sunday, as she urged governments to work together to combat human traffickers.
In contrast to her previous hardline statements, Meloni told an international conference in Rome that her government was willing to accept more migrants through legal channels since “Europe and Italy needed immigration.”
“Mass illegal immigration harms each and every one of us. No one benefits from this, except criminal groups who get rich at the expenses of the most fragile and use their strength even against the governments,” she said.
Earlier this month, Italy pledged to issue 452,000 new work visas for non-EU nationals from 2023 to 2025, increasing the number of permits available each year to a high of 165,000 in 2025. In 2019, before COVID struck, Italy issued just 30,850 visas.
The conference, which aims to build a partnership among states on an array of topics, is hosting representatives from countries including Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Cyprus, Libya and the European Union.
“International human traffickers are not welcome in our country,” Tunisian President Kais Saied told the conference.
Meloni, who has headed a right-wing government since October last year, is moving to engage other nations in efforts to stem mass migration and fight traffickers.
Arrivals in Italy are surging this year with over 83,000 people coming ashore so far this year compared to around 34,000 in the same period in 2022.
Meloni said the main focus of the conference was to support development in Africa, with “non-predatory, long-term partnerships … based on mutual respect.”
“The West has given the impression of being more concerned about giving lessons than in helping … and this has probably made it more difficult to make progress on strategic issues,” she said.