P&O Ferries and Brittany Ferries must be sweating over the success of the budget cross-Channel services being offered to customers looking to come over to Britain. I say ‘budget’, but one does not get much for one’s massive expenditure outlay: a rubber dingy that has not undergone any Health and Safety supervision and an old life-jacket. Nonetheless, the great advantages are that there is none of that messy paperwork incumbent on mainstream travellers – passports, insurance, tickets and the like – and one needn’t worry about the return journey (because it won’t happen).
Italy – and Lampedusa in particular – used to be the chosen destination of the migrants. Now Lampedusa is more of a central transport hub, facilitating an onward journey to the white cliffs of Dover. It’s like a slow version of connecting flights. In Britain, Home Secretary Priti Patel is now on Plan …er… is it V or W or X? to stop the massive influx of illegal immigration into Britain taking place on a daily basis. With her Rwanda option on hold due to a decision by the European Court of Human Rights (not a problem for our Antipodean counterparts in Australia with their much more effective system, which treats illegal immigration as crime, not as a hobby), is Britain the new Italy for seafaring immigrants? If so, we can expect to see a repeat of what has happened in Italy.
We all know that the malevolent people-trafficking gangs are too much of a challenge for the powers of the British state (heck, they even utilise the British Maritime and Coastguard Agency as part of the services they offer) but they are only going to get stronger and more organised. In Italy, the Mafia have their claws in the whole illegal immigration process, including the management of migrant reception centres. Hosting migrants occasions a €35 a day payment per migrant, which does not go to the immigrants themselves; much of it is pocketed by organised crime. The Guardian has reported on how the Mafia descend on these immigrant/asylum/refugee centres to recruit servile labourers, criminals, drug mules, sex workers and names for fraud. Many women migrants are sponsored by sex traffickers in the first place. It’s not a pretty picture, is it? The Guardian investigation notes: ‘One of the alleged bosses of the Mafia Capitale group in Rome, Salvatore Buzzi, was caught on a wiretap bragging about how much money he made off the backs of asylum seekers. “Do you have any idea how much I earn on immigrants?” he was heard telling an associate. “They’re more profitable than drugs.”’
The emergence of Matteo Salvini on the scene as the poster boy of the anti-immigration right (a very substantial constituency in Italy) offered hope that something would finally be done. When this leader of the League party entered government with his chosen brief as Minister of the Interior, he created quite a stir with his substantial influence on robust policies to stem the constant influx of illegal immigration. Salvini deliberately sought high-profile engagements with those helping to bring migrants into Italy. One such eye-catching event was the closing of ports. When in August 2018 Salvini announced that the coastguard ship Diciotti would not be given permission to dock to offload its 177 migrants, he actually faced criminal prosecution for kidnapping. But it was just another of his many media spectacles to raise his status as a robust right-winger. He advertised the kidnapping charge news on his Facebook page, receiving over a million hits.
The government’s hard-line attitude against illegal immigration worked as a deterrent – for as long as it lasted. But of course, it waned after it had served its temporary popularity-boosting purpose. The France24 news channel (as irreproachably woke as the most liberal media outlets) recently reported that in the first half of this year 34,000 illegal immigrants arrived in Italy by boat. This compares with 25,500 for the same period in 2020. (Apparently Covid restrictions provide the most effective border controls.) So illegal immigration by sea is back on the up again. As are the associated deaths: the president of the Sicily region has stated that ‘the Mediterranean is becoming the biggest cemetery of the desperate’.
The scepticism of Nigel Farage and many others that the British government will be in anyway effective against illegal immigration is likely to be proven repeatedly correct. If Italy, with policies that would be deemed extreme in the UK, has failed, then we are likely to see the same outcomes repeated here: the increase of both the involvement of organised crime and the volume of the illegal cross-Channel ferry service.