The latest moves in Italy’s ongoing effort to prevent migrants fleeing violence in Africa and the Middle East from setting foot on Italian soil are threatening to undermine the country’s “democratic identity”, analysts said.

Italy has maintained an extreme hardline stance against migrant arrivals in the country since the nationalist, Eurosceptic League entered into power as a partner in the government of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte nearly a year ago.

Upon becoming Italy’s minister of the interior last year, Matteo Salvini, who is also head of the League, closed Italian ports to migrant rescue ships and began to slash funding for programs aimed at assimilating migrants already in the country. The moves were criticized by leadership in multiple European Union member states and by humanitarian groups.

In the latest developments, Italy did allow two migrant ships to disembark in Italy, but then Salvini declared the rescue ships would be taken away by law enforcement, prevented from setting sail again.

“That was the last voyage for the boat,” Salvini wrote on social media. “Blocked and seized. Bye bye.”

In another move, Salvini said he would issue a government decree fining non-governmental groups who rescue would-be migrants at sea up to 5,500 euros (6,150 U.S. dollars) for each migrant they allow to disembark in Italy.

Aid groups said the measure was “a declaration of war against the non-governmental groups saving lives at sea”.

According to Francesca Curi, a jurisprudence professor at the University of Bologna who has conducted research into legal questions surrounding Italy’s migrant policies, the moves are also illegal.

“All of these steps Italy is taking are immoral and illegal,” Curi told Xinhua. “The problem is the Italian legal system moves very slowly and until judges start making their rulings, the government can do as it pleases.”

Luigi Ferrajoli, a professor emeritus in philosophy of law at Roma Tre University, said the right of offering safe harbor to people in need is something that has been at the “center of Europe’s legal system” dating back centuries.

“The people making these laws don’t care too much about consequences, but I think this is a crisis that is threatening our democratic identity,” Ferrajoli said in an interview. “The idea that we would let someone die at sea rather than letting them come to Italy is terrible. This debate is changing who we are.”

Curi said there could be another problem, in that making rules for the role of Italian ports does not fall under the auspices of the minister of interior, but is rather the duty of the ministry of infrastructure and transport, which is headed by Danilo Toninelli.

Toninelli is a member of the populist Five-Star Movement, the other of the two parties supporting the Conte government, a party often at odds with Salvini’s League.

“Salvini shouldn’t even be making rules about what happens in Italian ports,” Curi said. “This isn’t being treated as a humanitarian problem or even a legal problem. In Italy today, migration is a political problem.” Enditem



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