Matteo Salvini, former Deputy Prime Minister of Italy and leader of the largest right-wing party, “The League”, claimed in a well-known Italian tv show that “while Greece and Malta are rejecting boatloads of immigrants, in Italy in 2020 more than 5000 sans-papiers arrived by sea, despite the pandemic. He added that arrivals were only 1500 in the same period last year”.
It is well known that Malta has had a secret agreement with Libya for three years, based on which the Maltese armed forces track barges, travelling to the island, and asking Libyan coastguards to bring migrants back to North African detention centers. On the 4th of June, Italian newspaper Avvenire published a memorandum of understanding between the two countries that formalizes what has been happening. A second report by Avvenire and the British newspaper The Guardian showed that a Maltese patrol boat hijacked to Sicily a dinghy, carrying 101 people. The dinghy was already in Maltese territorial waters. Therefore, Matteo Salvini is telling the truth about Malta.
According to reports from Reuters , since the 3rd of March 2020, Greece had already rebuffed about 35.000 migrants coming from both sea and land. Salvini’s claim about Greece is correct but it is difficult to prove the link between those events and the number of migrants who reached Italy. As a matter of fact, Greece received 9.935 immigrants from January 2020 to May 2020, and only 3.843 from the 20th of February, date of first declared infection by Covid-19 in Italy.
About Greece we could also remember that last November, the Hellenic parliament voted in favor of a controversial bill, introducing sweeping changes to the national asylum system, including cutting some options for appeal and facilitating the deportation of failed asylum seekers.
When Matteo Salvini quotes the number of landings in Italy, he is accurate. As a matter of fact, according to Unhcr, from January 2020 to May 2020, 5119 people arrived by sea and in the same period last year they were 1561. Nevertheless, it is appropriate to clarify some points.
Salvini underlines that those 5119 landings occurred this year “despite the virus”. But we can notice that, from the 20th of February – when first Italian case of Covid-19 was declared – to the 31st of May, landings are 3054 in total.
On the other hand, League’s leader uses the word sans-papiers referring to immigrants. It is incorrect because although they enter the country irregularly, they could not be called sans-papiers from the moment they submit the asylum application. Considering their countries of origin, a huge number of people arrived to Italy can be qualified as “asylum seeker”.
Conclusion: Salvini’s claim is mostly true, although it is generic and incorrect in the way it connects facts, numbers and words.