Home Malta Winds In new migrant standoff, Italy’s Salvini blocks two NGO boats

In new migrant standoff, Italy’s Salvini blocks two NGO boats


Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said on Tuesday he was working to prevent two
rescue ships operated by French and Spanish charities from bringing more than
500 migrants to Italy in the latest Mediterranean stand-off.

The Ocean
Viking, which is run by French non-governmental groups (NGOs) Doctors Without
Borders and SOS Mediterranee, has picked up some 356 migrants off the coast of
Libya since Friday, while Spanish boat Open Arms has saved some 160 people.

Both vessels
are in the central Mediterranean, within easy sailing distance of the Italian
island of Lampedusa and are seeking a safe port to disembark the mainly African

But Salvini,
the leader of the far-right League who has seen his popularity in Italy soar
since he took office last year and launched a fierce anti-immigration
crackdown, said on Tuesday the boats were not Rome’s problem.

“I am at
work in the ministry this morning to prevent more than 500 migrants from
disembarking from two NGO boats, one French and one Spanish,” Salvini wrote on

“I will let
you know how this ends. I will not give up.”

Earlier this
month, Salvini introduced a new law hiking fines for ships that enter Italian
waters without authorization to up to 1 million euros ($1.12 million). It also
provides for the arrest of captains who ignore orders to stay away and calls on
naval authorities to seize their boats automatically.

Buoyed by
his success in the polls, Salvini is looking to trigger an early election in
the autumn by bringing down the Italian government, confident he would emerge
as prime minister from any new vote. As such, a high-profile clash with foreign
charities will bolster his anti-migrant credentials.

Salvini said
Libya had offered to take back the migrants aboard the Ocean Viking and said
Open Arms should go to Spain.

Without Borders has ruled out taking migrants to violence-plagued Libya, saying
migrants are routinely tortured and abused there. Open Arms has called for the
European Union to coordinate the re-distribution of the migrants around the

The United
Nations’ refugee agency called on European governments to intervene, warning
that storms were approaching.

“To leave
people who have fled war and violence in Libya on the high seas in this weather
would be to inflict suffering upon suffering,” said Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR
Special Envoy for the Central Mediterranean.

“They must
be immediately allowed to dock, and allowed to receive much-needed humanitarian

Spain said
Italy should deal with the immediate care.

law states that a rescue takes place in the closest safe port. Without doubt,
right now that means Italy. If it was us, we would do it,” Spain’s acting
development minister Jose Luis Abalos told Telecinco television on Tuesday.

However, he
also said Europe needed to forge a “wider” policy to handle migrant arrivals
from Africa.

Italy has
taken in more than 600,000 boat migrants since 2014, but new arrivals have
fallen sharply over the past two years, with the decline accelerating over the
past year.

figures say 4,265 migrants have reached Italy so far in 2019, down 78 percent
on the same period in 2018 and down 96 percent on 2017 levels.

Source: Reuters

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