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Europe’s refugee crisis

Italy turns away two more boats loaded with ‘human cargo’

Minister says the country no longer wants to be any part of the business of ‘clandestine immigration’

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 June, 2018, 7:38pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 June, 2018, 9:30pm

Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini on Saturday warned another migrant rescue mission off the Libyan coast that it would not be allowed to land its “human cargo” at an Italian port.

The new rightwing and anti-immigrant Italian government last week banned the French NGO operated vessel the Aquarius, with more than 600 rescued migrants on board, from docking in Italy, causing uproar and a sharp row with France.

Spain subsequently offered to take the Aquarius and it is expected at the port of Valencia on Sunday.

Salvini, leader of the anti-immigrant League, showed no sign Saturday of softening his position.

“While the Aquarius is sailing towards Spain, two other Dutch non-governmental organisation vessels (Lifeline and Seefuchs) have arrived off the Libyan coast, to wait for their human cargos once the people smugglers abandon them,” Salvini wrote on Facebook.

“These people should know that Italy no longer wants to be any part of this business of clandestine immigration and they will have to look for other ports to go to,” he said. “As minister and as a father, I take this action for the benefit of all.”

Almost 60 per cent of Italians are in favour of closing the country’s ports, supporting Salvini’s anti-immigration strategy, Ferdinando Pagnoncelli, president of polling company Ipsos Italia, wrote on Saturday in Corriere della Sera newspaper, citing a survey conducted on June 12 and 13.

Lingering political tensions over the unresolved question of how to control immigration from outside Europe have now broken out into the open, and the fallout is reshaping alliances and stoking old rivalries from Rome to Berlin, Paris and Vienna.

“Italy is facing giant challenges and I can understand that in the past Italy got the feeling it didn’t receive enough solidarity from European countries,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in an interview with Corriere della Sera, adding that he invited his Italian counterpart Enzo Moavero Milanesi to Berlin.

Salvini’s stance is also threatening German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who faces renewed domestic turbulence over her open-door stance on migrants that could yet spell her early departure.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg