Salvini to open trafficking probe against Italian rescue boat crew

Mare Jonio disembarked on Tuesday carrying 49 migrants

Some of the 49 migrants on board the NGO rescue ship Mare Jonio disembarked at Lampedusa's port on the orders of Guardia di Finanza tax police. EPA
Some of the 49 migrants on board the NGO rescue ship Mare Jonio disembarked at Lampedusa's port on the orders of Guardia di Finanza tax police. EPA

An Italian rescue boat carrying 49 migrants was seized by Sicilian prosecutors after it was rescued in the Mediterranean on Tuesday, with Interior Minister Matteo Salvini calling for the crew of the Mare Jonio to be arrested.

“Those who make mistakes will pay the price,” Mr Salvini wrote on Twitter. “Mediterranea,” the humanitarian group that organised Monday’s sea operation, said the rescue had been carried out in accordance with international human rights and maritime law.

The stand-off is the latest in a series of similar spats between humanitarian organisations and the leader of the hard-right League party, who last summer refused to let 177 migrants disembark for five days from the overcrowded boat Diciotti.

Italian prosecutors accused Mr Salvini f kidnapping and detention following the order, but he has yet to face trial.

Since he is a government minister, the accusations against him must be put to parliamentarians or senators, who will vote either for him to stand trial or for the proceedings to be halted.

The vote, expected to be held at the senate on Wednesday, is likely to shield Mr Salvini from prosecution thanks to votes from the League as well its coalition partner 5 Star Movement and Silvio Berlusconi’s right-wing party Forza Italia.

“I would never have expected to stand before you accused of kidnapping, but I do it calmly because I love my country,” he said in his remarks at the senate.

The Interior Minister argued he acted and will act in the future to “protect the security of my children and your children.”

Similarly to Diciotti, Mare Jonio was initially prevented from docking. It was later accompanied into port by police at nightfall as a storm approached on Tuesday.

While migrants were allowed to disembark, Mr Salvini said the boat would be impounded and the crew would face prosecution.

“We now have in Italy a government that defends the borders and enforces the law, especially against human traffickers,” he said.

The government repeatedly accused charity rescue boats of being run by collectives of left-wing hippies complicit with people smugglers. The Interior Minister said the Libyan coastguard should have picked up the migrants and taken either to Libya or Tunisia.

New arrivals to Italy have plummeted since Mr Salvini took office last June, with arrivals down 94 percent on the same period in 2018.

Human rights organisations however warned that migrants in Libya are subject to torture, unlawful killings, arbitrary detention, gang rape and slavery.

Published: March 20, 2019 04:20 PM


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