ROME - Italy's government was set to approve tougher jail terms for human smugglers, a draft decree seen by Reuters showed on Thursday, hours before a cabinet meeting near the town where a recent shipwreck killed at least 72 migrants.
Four suspected traffickers have been detained in the wake of the Feb. 26 incident in the seaside resort of Steccato di Cutro, where a wooden boat crammed with an estimated 180 migrants crashed and sank near the shoreline.
Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's right-wing government, which takes a hard line against illegal immigration, came under fire along with rescuers over allegations more could have been done to avoid the disaster.
Meloni has repeatedly said smugglers should not be allowed to control migration flows to the continent and the draft decree, still subject to approval, says traffickers who cause the death of more than one person risk 20 to 30 years in jail.
The cabinet, which will gather in the town of Cutro at 3:45 p.m. (1445 GMT), was also set to boost "maritime surveillance" through the navy and bolster the network of centres to repatriate migrants with no right to stay, the draft shows.
The official cabinet agenda sent by the government included the item "Law Decree: Urgent provisions on legal entry flows of foreign workers and on preventing and combating irregular immigration" - indicating the cabinet was set to approve the draft, although it is possible they could make some changes.
Hundreds of thousands of migrants have reached Italy by boat over the past decade, fleeing conflict and poverty back home. Sea arrivals have been around 15,800 so far this year, against around 6,000 in the same period of 2022, interior ministry data show.
The draft decree also includes measures to make it easier for legal migrants to find a job in Italy and offers a preferential track to enter Italy to nationals from third countries that promote campaigns against illegal migration.
(Reporting by Angelo Amante; Editing by Alex Richardson)