ROME (Reuters) - Italy presented a scheme on Friday to accelerate the expulsion of migrants who have no right to stay in the country, cutting the time it takes to decide on whether an asylum seeker must return home.
Immigration flows helped fuel the rise of Italy’s far-right League party, whose leader Matteo Salvini imposed a crackdown on arrivals while he was interior minister until August.
Salvini closed Italy’s ports to migrant rescue ships, threatening the charities operating them with fines of up to 1 million euros ($1.10 million) if they tried to dock.
After the League unexpectedly quit the government in a failed bid to trigger an early election, its former ally the 5-Star Movement formed a coalition with the center-left Democratic Party, ushering in a less aggressive approach to immigration.
The new government has already agreed with four other EU states a scheme to distribute people saved in the Mediterranean, and it hopes its plan to send back those already in Italy will defuse accusations by Salvini that it is soft on immigration.
“I do not believe that redistributing migrants to other European countries is the final solution”, 5-Star leader and Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio told a news conference.
Under the new decree, the time to examine asylum requests of migrants who come from a list of 13 “safe” European and African countries, including Tunisia and Albania, will be reduced from two years to four months.
If the request is rejected, the expulsion procedure will be immediately triggered.
“More than one third of those who arrived in Italy in 2019 comes from these countries,” Di Maio said.
Fewer than 8,000 migrants came to Italy by sea in 2019, down 62% from 2018 and down 92% compared to 2017, official data show. However, expulsions fell far short of Salvini’s electoral promises.
The League leader said he would repatriate 100,000 migrants in his first year in power, followed by another 400,000 during the rest of his five-year term in office, but Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese told parliament this month that only 5,244 people had been repatriated this year up to Sept 22.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte welcomed the new plan as “a great step forward” and said he was confident it would produce more rapid repatriations.
“Italy has always been inefficient in this,” Conte said.
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Reporting by Angelo Amante; Editing by Gavin Jones and Gareth Jones