Italy’s Meloni blasts judge who rejected migrant law

October 03, 2023

ROME: Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni railed on Monday against a Sicilian judge who ruled her hard-right government´s latest migrant decree was unconstitutional and contrary to European law.

Faced with a surge of migrant arrivals on Italy´s shores, Meloni´s coalition -- elected a year ago vowing to stop illegal immigration -- has issued a series of decree laws, including to try to speed up the deportation of those who would not normally qualify for asylum.

On Friday, a judge in Catania released a detained Tunisian migrant after ruling that a September decree law, which included requiring certain migrants to pay 5,000 euros ($5,270) in bail to avoid transfer to a detention centre, violated EU and Italian law.

Meloni, who leads the post-Fascist Brothers of Italy party, said on social media on Monday that she was “stunned” by the ruling. The judge “freed an illegal immigrant, already the recipient of an expulsion order, unilaterally declaring Tunisia an unsafe country... and lashing out against the measures of a democratically elected government”, she wrote.

The government has sought to fast-track deportations. It has created an “accelerated” repatriation centre in the Sicilian city of Pozzallo to hold recently arrived migrants from Tunisia and Egypt, which both have deals with Italy that help to speed deportations.

Rome considers Tunisia a “safe country” whose citizens are not escaping war or persecution, hence rarely qualifying for international protection. In Friday´s court´s decision, seen by AFP, the judge ruled the government decree was unlawful as it did not provide for asylum claims from migrants from safe countries to be assessed on an individual basis.

Moreover, the judge found the decree did not allow third parties, such as migrant associations, to pay the 5,000-euro ($5266) bail on behalf of the migrant, as allowed under European Union law.

Italy´s Association for Legal Studies on Immigration (ASG), which studies case law related to migrants, said the government´s recent measures amounted to “a bad way of legislating that stems from a wrong political approach and an irrational response to an ordinary phenomenon in our society”.

“The current government, in just one year, has intervened with nine regulatory acts on immigration and asylum law, transposing into the legal system political confusion, administrative inability to deal with the migration phenomenon and authoritarian impulses worthy of the darkest historical eras,” it said.

Criticism also came from the opposition. The leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, Elly Schlein, charged that Meloni, in taking on a judge, was “spurring a clash between institutions that damages the country”.

“Stop looking for an enemy every day to hide your responsibilities,” she wrote. Italy´s hard-right government, she said, “writes blatantly unconstitutional laws and then takes it out on the judges who do their job”. The interior ministry plans to challenge the judge´s decision, according to news agency AGI.