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Boats from Libya threaten Italian identity

Structure in Puglia region of Italy, potentially susceptible to remodeling as mosque by invading Muslims. (Photo by Amelia Opalinska.)

Structure in Puglia region of Italy, potentially susceptible to remodeling as mosque by invading Muslims. (Photo by Amelia Opalinska.)

On May 7, 2009, 227 migrants en route from Libya to Italy were intercepted in the Mediterranean Sea and escorted back to Tripoli by three vessels belonging to the Italian state, two from the Guardia Costiera and one from the Guardia di Finanza. In the online version of the Italian journal La Repubblica, Italy’s interior minister Roberto Maroni applauded the feat as “un risultato storico” in the struggle against clandestini, and a resolution to arguments between Italy and Malta over which nation should have to deal with potential asylum seekers. Maroni reasoned that, since the migrants were intercepted prior to reaching Italian shores, international law did not apply and it was not the “compito del governo italiano”—the duty of the Italian government—to evaluate requests for asylum; not addressed was why it was the compito del governo italiano to redeposit the travelers at their point of embarkation.

Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi was quoted in La Repubblica as supporting the re-depositing based on the fact that, unlike the political left in Italy which wanted to open the doors to everyone, his government was not founded on the idea of a società multietnica but rather on the idea of receiving only those migrants who met the requirements for political asylum. No logistical details were offered on how to determine whether migrants met such requirements if they were forcibly repatriated prior to questioning; defense minister Ignazio La Russa meanwhile deflected potential accusations of xenophobia by explaining in the online version of Il Giornale that opposition to a multiethnic society did not mean that people of different ethnicities could not become Italian. According to La Russa, it was critical not to lose track of the history that made Italians “unici nel mondo”—a history of uniqueness that had included convictions during colonial periods that Libya was not opposed to a multiethnic society.

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