Foreign relations / Security and defence

Sicily Channel, was Letta’s approach really so wrong?

After ousting Prime Minister Enrico Letta, Matteo Renzi called back Operation Mare Nostrum, a massive naval search-and-rescue operation in the Sicily Channel. The choice of the name of the operation was not very wise, since “Mare Nostrum” was the slogan adopted by the fascist Government during its attempt to establish an Italian hegemony over the Mediterranean Sea. However, the operation is credited with saving more than 100,000 immigrants.

Mare Nostrum was discontinued because it was deemed too expensive and, above all, an incentive for human traffickers, who just needed to send their boats into international waters, launch a SOS and wait for the Italian Navy to arrive.

However the President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, Laura Boldrini, a former UNHCR official, highlighted that Mare Nostrum costed just 600 euros for every immigrant saved. Above all, it is clear that the interruption of the operation did not discourage human traffickers.

The Italian Navy still operates a downsized mission in the Sicily Channel, reinforced by a EU naval mission. Mr Letta and former Prime Minister and European Commission President Romano Prodi both advocated some sort of “European Mare Nostrum”.

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