Newly appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has announced on Facebook that Italy won’t allow two NGO rescue ships with illegal migrants from Africa onboard, which was abandoned by human traffickers, to dock in their ports. According to the official, the vessels Lifeline and Seefuchs under the Dutch flag are waiting off the Libyan coast, ready to take people.
“These people should know that Italy doesn’t want to be complicit in the business of illegal immigration no more, and that’s why they should look for other, non-Italian, ports. As a minister and a father, they can attack me and threaten me as much as they want, but I won’t give up,” his message with the hashtag #wecloseports reads.
The NGO, which needs one of the rejected vessels, slammed Salvini, who is also the leader of the right-wing Lega party, known for its hard stance on illegal migration, with a post saying, “When fascists advertise us.” The Italian Deputy PM fired back saying, “Threats and Offences won’t stop us.”
The tweet was later deleted, while the organization stated that “Salvini is not a fascist of course” and later launched a crowdfunding campaign in Italian. Salvini subsequently lambasted the group, which he described as a “pseudo-German NGO,” for trying to cash out on the scandal.
The recent showdown has taken place just days after Italy, which is pursuing a hardline policy on immigration, refused to grant access to the rescue vessel Acquarius with almost 630 migrants, allegedly rescued by the German branch of the SOS Mediterranean NGO. Under international law, people rescued at sea should be brought to the nearest and safest port for assistance.
Italy said that Malta was the closest and safest port to accommodate the vessel. The Maltese authorities, in their turn, said the issue was not under their jurisdiction and only chose to send food to the ship, but denied entry to its ports. Valletta said that since the migrants were rescued in the Libyan search and rescue area and was coordinated from Rome, Malta is neither the coordinating authority nor has the competence to settle this issue, thus rejecting to take in the migrants and asylum seekers.
Salvini wrote on his Facebook page that the vessel is heading towards Spain, where it will arrive on June 17. France has confirmed that it’s ready to support Spain by accepting the passengers of the Aquarius who meet the criteria for granting the right to asylum. French President Emmanuel Macron harshly criticized the decision, angering Italy. Rome summoned the French ambassador in response, while Deputy Prime Minister Salvini insisted that France should apologize. However, French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte agreed to to leave the feud behind and work together on containing migration, as they met on June 15.