The government wants to pick up where it left off with Italy’s new government in lobbying the EU on migration in the Mediterranean, Times of Malta has been told.

News that Italy finally formed a new government and appointed Matteo Salvini as its Home Affairs Minister on Friday raised concern that this will spell increased migrant arrivals in Malta.

This development was not exactly unexpected and the Maltese government had ample time to prepare for a shift in policy, Integra Foundation director Maria Pisani said when contacted.

Mr Salvini has reportedly said that one of his government’s top priorities will be to send migrants “back home”. He had campaigned on a pledge to deport about 500,000 migrants.

READ: Italy's eurosceptics and their currency ideas take centre-stage

Asked whether the government was especially concerned about the appointment of Mr Salvini and if it anticipated more migrant arrivals, a spokesman for the Office of the Prime Minister said the government respected the will of the Italian people and looked forward to engaging with the new government.  

Italy, like other countries, is demanding change, but in the long run, this is not the change any of us needs

During his tenure as Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat has already had the opportunity to engage with four Italian prime ministers and “always found them to be very cooperative in their approach”.

The OPM is “sure” that the historical and geographical ties of the two countries will be the context within which these relations will continue to develop.  

His is not the change any of us needs

“The Maltese government is willing to continue engaging with the Italian government at European and bilateral level as part of a holistic strategy which has seen a drastic reduction in persons travelling through the central Mediterranean route,” the spokesperson added.  

Transparency 

Dr Pisani noted that migrant boat arrivals in Malta stopped in 2015 as a result of a "gentleman’s agreement", which was later redefined as an “understanding” between Italy and Malta.

"Our key concern throughout has been the lack of transparency", she said.

Asked whether she thought this "understanding" would be renewed with someone like Mr Salvini, Dr Pisani said “time will tell”.

Italy’s new populist government raised a number of concerns, with this agreement issue being quite minor in the bigger picture, she added.

“Malta’s international human rights obligations remain. This new development wasn't exactly unexpected,” she said.

“As such, the government has been given more than enough time to prepare for a shift in policy – one would expect that with more than a decade's experience in humanitarian action, and three years to evaluate and learn from the past, the authorities would have the expertise and personnel on standby and ready to go.”

As for the bigger picture, this development suggested a regional approach will remain even more elusive: “Member states looking after their own short-term political interests, rather than working together to address the challenges bought about by war, persecution, global inequalities and globalisation.”

Ultimately, Dr Pisani believes it is a lose-lose situation for all.

The Italian people are right to be angry, and they are right to demand change – the prevailing political ideology is not working, the gap between the haves and the have-nots is growing, Dr Pisani said.

“Political corruption is rife,” she said.

“Italy, like other countries, is demanding change, but in the long run, this is not the change any of us needs – least of all those excluded from the ballot box, the refugees.”

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