British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who was in Italy over the weekend on an official visit, has warned that illegal migration threatens to ”overwhelm” Europe and indicated that it may be time for an update of international law.
At an event in Rome on Saturday, the British Indian leader also cautioned that ”enemies” could use immigration as a ”weapon” by ”deliberately driving people to our shores to try to destabilise” European society. He was addressing the Atreju political festival, organised by Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s right wing Brothers of Italy party.
”If we do not tackle this (illegal migration) problem, the numbers will only grow,” said Sunak.
“It will overwhelm our countries and our capacity to help those who actually need our help the most. If that requires us to update our laws and lead an international conversation to amend the post-war frameworks around asylum, then we must do that. Because if we don’t fix this problem now, the boats will keep coming and more lives will be lost at sea,” he said.
Sunak has made “stop the boats” a government pledge on the domestic front and has faced several hurdles in efforts to control the large numbers of migrants crossing the English Channel to enter the UK illegally.
”Criminal gangs will find ever cheaper ways to ply their evil trade. They will exploit our humanity. They think nothing of putting people’s lives at risk when they put them in these boats at sea,” he told the festival in Rome.
While in Italy, Sunak also held bilateral talks with counterpart Meloni during which tackling illegal migration was stated as a key area of discussion.
“They committed to continuing to strengthen the collective effort to fight criminal people smuggling gangs and ensure control of Europe’s borders,” Downing Street said in an official readout of the meeting.
“The Prime Minister and Prime Minister Meloni also discussed wider geopolitical issues, including the situation in Israel and Gaza and their unwavering support for Ukraine. They noted progress on cooperation on Artificial Intelligence following the UK summit and agreed to continue driving forward initiatives on AI safety,” the readout added.
During a trilateral between the UK, Italy and Albania, Downing Street said the leaders welcomed progress to date and agreed to intensify joint activity to tackle organised immigration crime, including law enforcement cooperation.
“They agreed that innovative structural solutions, like the UK’s Rwanda policy, were necessary to break the model of people smugglers and regain control of movement into and across Europe,” Downing Street said.
The Rwanda policy, which seeks to deport illegal migrants from the UK to the east African country while their asylum claims are assessed, survived a feared rebellion earlier this week when a new bill cleared its first stage in the House of Commons.
However, further hurdles are expected as the Rwanda Safety Bill, which gives ministers the right to disapply the UK’s Human Rights Act, progresses through further stages in Parliament in the new year.