The Italian government is poised to approve tougher jail sentences for human traffickers, according to a draft decree seen by Reuters on Thursday, hours before a cabinet meeting near the city where a recent shipwreck killed at least 72 migrants.
Four suspected smugglers have been arrested following the Feb. 26 incident in the coastal town of Steccato di Cutro, where a wooden boat packed with about 180 migrants capsized near the coast.
Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s right-wing government, which maintains a hard line against irregular immigration, was criticized along with rescue teams over accusations that more could have been done to avert disaster.
Meloni has repeatedly stated that smugglers should not be allowed to control migration flows to the continent and the draft decree, still subject to approval, states that traffickers who cause the death of more than one person face between 20 and 30 years in prison.
The cabinet, which will meet in the town of Cutro at 15:45 local time (1445 GMT), also planned to promote “maritime surveillance” through the Navy and strengthen the network of repatriation centers for immigrants without the right to stay, according to the draft.
The official cabinet agenda sent by the government included the item “Decree Law: Urgent provisions on legal flows of foreign workers and on preventing and combating irregular immigration”, indicating that the cabinet is preparing to approve the project, although it is possible that it will introduce some changes.
Hundreds of thousands of migrants have arrived in Italy by boat over the past decade, fleeing conflict and poverty in their home countries. Arrivals by sea have been about 15,800 so far this year, compared to about 6,000 in the same period in 2022, according to data from the Interior Ministry.
The draft decree also includes measures to make it easier for regular immigrants to find work in Italy and offers a preferential route to enter Italy for third-country nationals who promote campaigns against irregular immigration.