Meloni ridiculed for blaming migration surge on Wagner Group

EU ‘has done nothing for Italy’ says Mike Parry

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Giorgia Meloni’s government has been ridiculed for the claim that the a surge in migrants crossing the Mediterranean is part of a “hybrid warfare” waged by Russia using Wagner Group mercenaries. The Italian Defence Minister on Monday accused Russia’s Wagner mercenaries of deliberately driving up the numbers of migrants reaching Italian shores to affect Italy’s “geostrategic choices”. Guido Crosetto said the Russian paramilitary organisation, which is believed to be operating in several northern African countries, is using its “considerable weight” in Africa to “exponentially” increase the number of migrants leaving African shores for Italy.

However, the claim has been branded a groundless “conspiracy theory” aimed at diverting attention away from the government’s struggles to contain migrant arrivals.

Prof Pietro Castelli Gattinara, author of The Politics of Migration in Italy, told that Meloni’s regime is failing to accept responsibility.

“Instead of taking responsibility for these numbers, they are trying to find a justification in the eyes of public opinion,” he said.

Some 20,000 people have reached Italy so far this year, compared to 6,100 in the same period of 2022, figures by Italy’s interior ministry show. In the past weekend alone, 1,200 people reached Italian shores.

Populist Ms Meloni was elected last October on the promise of cracking down on migrant crossings and taking a hard line against immigration.

Blaming Wagner is just another attempt to justify the rise in crossings, said Prof Gattinara, adding: “What he says about migration being organised by Russia is in my opinion close to a conspiracy theory.”

Earlier this month, Ms Meloni called on fellow EU leaders to do more to halt illegal immigration. Her defence minister has now called on NATO to help Italy face the rise in migrant arrivals.

“The Atlantic Alliance becomes stronger if the problems arising from collective choices are also shared, but it runs the risk of cracking if the countries most exposed to retaliation of various kinds are left alone,” Mr Crosetto said.

The Italian researcher believes Meloni’s Government is trying to get NATO to invest in their electoral promise to set up a naval blockade to stop migrants and asylum seekers fleeing North Africa.

During the election campaign, the Prime Minister suggested that the Italian Navy patrol the Mediterranean to keep migrants off Italian shores.

“It is something hardly credible as an actual policy,” Prof Crosetto said. “But I wouldn’t be surprised that they are looking at NATO and hoping for a possible partner for those kinds of operations.”

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Alberto Alemanno, a professor of EU law at HEC Paris told there is “no evidence” the surge in migrants is caused by Wagner para-military groups.

However, he said: “The rocketing inflation and scarcity of grain are most likely causes, that are contributing to the destabilisation of African nations which may, in turn, find expression in the greater flux of migrants.

“Needless to say that both are the direct consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and that build upon a pre-existing, deeper African turn towards Russia, notably within West African Sahel regions.”

Wagner CEO Yevgeny Prigozhin responded to the accusation with an expletive-laden voice message posted on his Telegram channel, saying: “We have no idea what’s happening with the migrant crisis, we don’t concern ourselves with it.”

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