Italy's new populist government has wasted no time in repeating its campaign promise to deport hundreds of thousands of migrants — although the financial, logistical and humanitarian implications of such an undertaking are only now becoming clear.
The right-wing Lega party, which formed a coalition government with Five-Star Movement (M5S) last week, is the driving force behind anti-immigration rhetoric and it is looking to fulfil a pledge to deport as many as 500,000 illegal migrants.
Lega leader Matteo Salvini — who is now Italy's deputy prime minister and interior minister — reiterated the government's aim to deport illegal migrants on a visit to Sicily last weekend.
The island, which has been a major point of arrival and detention for migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea, had to stop being "the refugee camp of Europe," Salvini told reporters.
"It is not enough to reduce the numbers of people arriving. We need to increase deportations," he said.
Visiting a migrant detention center in the Sicilian port of Pozzallo, where he was greeted both by supporters and pro-migrant protesters, Salvini said his government's stance on migrants was one of "common sense."
"These are emergency centers, my interest is to work in order to reduce the number of people arriving and increase the number of deportations. This is not easy to do, nor is it possible to do it in a quarter of an hour, but in the coming weeks we want to give new signals, to cut costs and (migrant detention) durations."
On Saturday, speaking at a rally in northern Italy, Salvini had told illegal migrants "get ready to pack your bags."