Italy complains to Germany over migrant NGO funding

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Italy complains to Germany over migrant NGO funding
Italian Coast Guard personnel prepare to tow boats with migrants near the port of the island of Lampedusa. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/LaPresse/AP | Cecilia Fabiano

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has written to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to complain about funding charities helping irregular migrants in her country, according to a letter made public Monday.


A surge in migrant boat landings on the Italian island of Lampedusa earlier this month sparked a debate across Europe about how to manage arrivals.

Meloni's government has sought to limit the activities of charity rescue ships operating in the central Mediterranean, the world's deadliest sea crossing for migrants.

"I learned with amazement that your government, without coordinating with the Italian government, decided to provide significant funds to non-governmental organisations working to welcome irregular migrants on Italian territory and in rescues in the Mediterranean Sea," Meloni wrote.

In the letter dated Saturday, the Italian far-right leader suggested on-land help would be better conducted in Germany than Italy.

She repeated her accusation -- strongly denied by NGOs -- that charity rescue boats acted a "pull factor" for migrants crossing the sea from North Africa.

She said EU nations who wanted to help Italy manage irregular migration would be better to focus on "structural solutions", including working with transit countries to stop the flows.

Meloni's defence minister said this weekend the NGOs only pick up around five percent of arrivals into Italy, which so far this year number more than 133,000 -- almost double the 70,000 in the same period of last year.

READ ALSO: German president urges fair migrant distribution on Italy trip

The German foreign office confirmed to AFP on Friday it was providing between 400,000 euros and 800,000 euros each to two projects relating to migrants.

The projects were "for the support on land in Italy of people rescued at sea and an NGO project for sea-rescue operations", a spokesperson said.

On Monday, a German foreign ministry spokesman said Berlin's financial support for the NGOs "wasn't a surprise for anyone" as it was funding approved previously by parliament.

"Our Italian partners were also informed at the time about it. It has taken some time for the various NGOs worthy of funding to be selected. That has now occurred and thus the funds are being distributed," the spokesman said during a regular government media briefing.


The news of Germany's funding sparked anger among Matteo Salvini's anti-immigration League party, which shares power with Meloni's far-right Brothers of Italy.

Meloni's defence minister, Guido Crosetto, also weighed in, saying it was a "very serious" move that put Italy "in difficulty".

The criticism comes after Berlin temporarily stopped accepting migrants living in Italy, after Rome itself suspended EU rules governing the distribution of migrants.


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