Italian PM ‘astonished’ at Germany paying charities for refugee rescues

<span>Photograph: Drew Angerer/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Italy’s far-right prime minster, Giorgia Meloni, has written a stern letter to the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, telling him she was “astonished” to learn that Berlin was paying charities to rescue people in the Mediterranean.

The row between Italy and German broke out after the Catholic charity Sant’Egidio said it had signed a fresh deal with Berlin to fund activities assisting refugees in Italy.

A spokesperson for the German foreign ministry said his government had implemented a “financial support programme” worth €790,000 (£685,000) to support the German NGO SOS Humanity in carrying out search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean. Saving people at sea was a “legal, humanitarian and moral duty”, the spokesperson added.

Related: Here on Lampedusa, the crisis we face alone is a humanitarian one – not a migrant invasion

Italy is once again at the centre of Europe’s immigration crisis after more than 11,000 people arrived on the southern island of Lampedusa within a week, bringing the total number landing on Italy’s shores so far this year to about 133,000 – more than double the same period in 2022.

Meloni has called for hardline policies against irregular immigration while vowing not to let Italy become “Europe’s refugee camp”.

In a letter to Scholz shared with the Italian news agencies, Meloni wrote: “I have learned with astonishment that your government – in an uncoordinated manner with the Italian government – has allegedly decided to support with substantial funds non-governmental organisations engaged in the reception of irregular migrants on Italian territory and in rescues in the Mediterranean Sea.”

Meloni added that EU member states should instead focus on “structural solutions”.

“For example, by working on an EU initiative with the transit countries on the southern shore of the Mediterranean, which would, moreover, require fewer resources than the one that has been in place for some time with Turkey.”

Related: What is the controversy over the EU migration deal with Tunisia?

Italian defence minister, Guido Crosetto, also took aim at Germany, saying that he would have expected “assistance and solidarity” with Italy in its “moment of difficulty” as it coped with the rise in arrivals.

The Meloni government, which has pledged the quick expulsion of those turned down for asylum, last week signed off on measures giving authorities the power to keep people in pre-deportation detention centres for as long as 18 months.

The government has also ruled that people waiting for their asylum requests to be processed would have to pay a deposit, reportedly worth €5,000, to avoid being detained.