Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni revealed her right-wing government’s plans to crack down on people smugglers after a cabinet meeting she chaired Thursday in the southern city near the beach where a wooden boat packed with migrants

By holding the meeting in Cutro, Calabria, instead of the capital Rome, Meloni said she was emphasizing her determination to “fight slavery in the third millennium.”

She announced that her government had approved a decree establishing a new crime – people smuggling resulting in the death or serious injury of migrants – punishable by up to 30 years in prison, an exceptionally severe penalty for crimes involving the facilitation of illegal immigration .

Many of the dead and survivors of the February 26 tragedy had fled Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and Syria, hoping to join family members in Italy and other Western European countries.

Earlier this week, a 72nd body was recovered from the shipwreck. The overcrowded boat struck a sandbar just off the beach of Steccato di Cutro, began taking on water and broke apart.

Eighty people survived, many of them piled ashore on the beach after swimming from the wreckage. Dozens are still believed to be missing as survivors said the boat had left Turkey with about 180 passengers.

“Our task is to find solutions to the problem, and today, as I said, the best way to honor these victims is to do what we can so that this tragedy is not repeated,” Meloni said.

The government decree must be turned into law by parliament, where Meloni’s right-wing coalition has a comfortable majority.

The decree also gives Italy the power to pursue smugglers even if the crimes are committed “outside our national borders,” Meloni said.

Justice Minister Carlo Nordio told reporters that Italy will assert its jurisdiction in cases where a fatal shipwreck, or other loss of life or injury to migrants, occurs in “waters that are not under anyone’s (territorial) control.” It will apply when the smuggler’s ship is on its way to Italy.

The same decree will be exercised against those who finance the activities behind the smuggling, Nordio said.

Priority lane for migrants

At the cabinet meeting, Meloni’s government also approved the creation of a system of “preferential pathways” for foreigners trained abroad in programs recognized by Italy to obtain migrant jobs.

Meloni said her government also intended to set legal entry quotas for migrants “from the countries that are working with Italy to crack down on traffickers and educate their citizens about the risks” of boarding smugglers’ seaworthy vessels.

Opposition leaders and humanitarian groups have slammed Italian authorities’ decision not to quickly dispatch coast guard rescue boats after a Frontex patrol plane spotted the wooden ship about 72 kilometers off the coast of Calabria hours before the pre-dawn wreck in rough seas.

Frontex is the European Union’s agency for border and coastal protection.

Pressed by reporters, Meloni on Thursday stood by his interior minister’s account to lawmakers earlier this week that Frontex – in its message to Italian authorities late on February 25 – had indicated no signs of distress.

“We are talking about a boat that navigated for three days and … never had any problems,” the prime minister said. β€œIt arrived in front of the Italian coast, 40 meters away. There was not and could not have been any sign of a possible shipwreck” going on, she argued.

Meloni accused the smugglers of waiting for an opportune moment to disembark the passengers and escape Italian authorities. Instead, the boat rammed the sandbar.

Prosecutors in Calabria are investigating whether Italy should have launched rescue operations after Frontex aerial surveillance.

Migrants continue to arrive in Lampedusa

Meanwhile, hundreds more migrants have landed on the southern island of Lampedusa in recent days.

Many arrived without needing rescue. Italy’s coast guard and border police boats plucked dozens of others to safety this week in the central Mediterranean. Among them were 45 migrants, including five newborns, who were rescued on Wednesday, and 38 rescued by the coast guard after their boat sank in Malta’s rescue sector.

In another Italian coast guard operation, 20 migrants were rescued when their boat ran into trouble after setting off from Sfax, Tunisia, and the body of a woman was recovered, Italian state television said.

By Thursday afternoon, more than 1,300 migrants had reached Lampedusa by sea in recent days, and authorities sent a large ferry from Sicily to transfer some of them from the island’s chronically overcrowded temporary migrant accommodation.

Dozens of townspeople turned out Thursday in solidarity with migrants in Cutro, a town of 8,000, which closed schools and cordoned off the area as part of security for the government meeting. Some of the town’s fishermen had dived into the sea to save the living and bring back the dead from the disaster.

So far, the body of a migrant from Afghanistan has been buried in Calabria, that of a Tunisian victim was sent to Tunisia, one victim from Afghanistan was transported to Germany while four bodies were sent back to Pakistan. On Wednesday, seven bodies were transported to Bologna’s Muslim cemetery, while others were prepared to be sent to Germany and Afghanistan.