Italy's Matteo Salvini rails against EU migration policy

Move comes as charity rescue ship prepares to set sail for migrants off Libyan coast

FILE PHOTO: Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini addresses a news conference at Viminale Palace, Rome, Italy, July 15 2019. REUTERS/Remo Casilli/File Photo
Powered by automated translation

The EU's migration policy ignores problems faced by countries most affected by asylum seekers across the Mediterranean, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini complained on Sunday.

Mr Salvini, also Italian Deputy Prime Minister, criticised the central roles played by France and Germany in setting migration policy for the EU.

“Enough of making choices only in Paris and Berlin,” he wrote in a Facebook on Sunday, accompanied by a letter sent to French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner.

"Italy is no longer willing to accept all the migrants that arrive in Europe.

“France and Germany cannot decide migration policy by ignoring the demands of the most exposed countries such as us and Malta."

Mr Salvini, leader of the right-wing League party, is considering  pulling out of a coalition government, which could lead to elections.

The League has clashed with its ruling partner, the Five Star Movement, over immigration and other key issues.

Polls suggest that its stance on migration has contributed to the League becoming the most popular in Italy, with support up sharply since last year’s national elections.

Italy is the entry point for many migrants arriving by sea but the EU remains divided over the best way to distribute asylum seekers across its members.

Mr Salvini has sought to stop migrants arriving in Italy by blocking the work of charity rescue ships, which have been denied the right to dock at Italian ports.

Doctors without Borders said on Sunday that it was resuming its rescues with the launch of a new vessel, the Norwegian-flagged Ocean Viking, at the end of July.

It had previously halted its operations in December because of “sustained attacks on search and rescue by European states”.

“Politicians would have you believe that the deaths of hundreds of people at sea, and the suffering of thousands of refugees and migrants trapped in Libya, are the acceptable price of attempts to control migration,” said the medical charity's spokesman, Sam Turner.

“The cold reality is that while they herald the end of the so-called European migration crisis, they are knowingly turning a blind eye to the humanitarian crisis these policies perpetuate in Libya and at sea.”

The International Organisation for Migration says at least 426 people have died trying to cross the central Mediterranean this year.

The new operation comes a month after the arrest in Italy of Carola Rackete, the German captain of the Sea-Watch 3, for docking without permission to land with 40 rescued migrants.

Ms Rackete was held for several days after the ship hit an Italian police speedboat while entering the port of Lampedusa, despite being banned from Italian waters.

She said she had to bring ashore the migrants, who were rescued in June, to avert a humanitarian tragedy.