Italy’s PM: Salvini ‘ob­sessed’ with block­ing mi­grants at sea

The Morning Call - - NATION & WORLD - By Frances D’Emilio

ROME — A hu­man­i­tar­ian boat carrying 147 mi­grants res­cued at sea was eventually al­lowed to let nine peo­ple dis­em­bark Thurs­day night on a tiny Ital­ian is­land, but the oth­ers were stuck aboard for a 15th night, as the drama was swept up in Italy’s rapidly wors­en­ing gov­ern­ment cri­sis.

With a po­lit­i­cal stand­off ex­ac­er­bated by the mi­gra­tion is­sue, Ital­ian Pre­mier Giuseppe Conte re­buked his in­te­rior min­is­ter for be­ing “obsessive” about clos­ing Ital­ian ports in a mi­grant crack­down.

The Span­ish res­cue boat Open Arms tweeted that the “ur­gent” evac­u­a­tion of five peo­ple was au­tho­rized for psy­cho­log­i­cal rea­sons and four fam­ily mem­bers were al­lowed to ac­com­pany them. The nine were trans­ferred by the Ital­ian coast guard in a mo­tor­ized rub­ber dinghy.

The fate of the re­main­ing 138 mi­grants re­mained un­re­solved.

“We con­tinue to not have au­tho­riza­tion to dis­em­bark the other per­sons aboard,” Open Arms said. “This will be their 15th night” sleep­ing on the crowded ship, which has de­scribed de­te­ri­o­rat­ing med­i­cal and hygiene con­di­tions.

In an open let­ter to In­te­rior Min­is­ter Mat­teo Salvini, Conte re­buked the right-wing leader of the ju­nior coali­tion League party for his “obsessive con­cen­tra­tion in fac­ing the theme of im­mi­gra­tion, re­duc­ing it to a ‘closed ports’ for­mula.”

Salvini shot back at a news con­fer­ence that he was “proud” of his “ob­ses­sion,” say­ing that he is de­ter­mined to keep Italy safe and its borders se­cured, be­cause “that’s what Ital­ian cit­i­zens pay me for.”

“I’d ex­pect a ‘thank you,’ not a fol­low-up with in­sults,” Salvini later told Sky TG24 TV.

While other pri­vate res­cue boats have been caught up in stand­offs caused by Salvini’s pol­icy of re­fus­ing dock­ing to char­ity boats, the Open Arms’ crew and mi­grants risked be­ing col­lat­eral dam­age in Italy’s rapidly wors­en­ing gov­ern­ment cri­sis.

Last week, Salvini’s League brought a no-con­fi­dence mo­tion against Conte’s 14-mon­thold pop­ulist gov­ern­ment. No date has been set for the showdown in the Se­nate, which could trig­ger the gov­ern­ment’s collapse.

Ear­lier Thurs­day, Spain and five other na­tions agreed to take those aboard the Open Arms.

But the ad hoc of­fers by fel­low Eu­ro­pean Union na­tions did lit­tle to calm the po­lit­i­cal tur­moil that could lead to early elec­tions that the eu­roskep­tic Salvini hopes will give him the premier­ship in his quest to move Italy far­ther to the right.

In the open let­ter, posted on Face­book, Conte ac­cused his in­te­rior min­is­ter of “dis­loyal co­op­er­a­tion that I can­not ac­cept.”

Ear­lier this week, Conte had urged Salvini to al­low the dis­em­bark­ing of the 32 mi­nors, but the in­te­rior min­is­ter ignored the ap­peal.

Salvini in­sists that other EU na­tions ac­cept more mi­grants, most of whom are flee­ing poverty and aren’t el­i­gi­ble for refugee sta­tus.


Mi­grants are evac­u­ated from the Span­ish hu­man­i­tar­ian boat Open Arms off the coast of the Si­cil­ian is­land of Lampe­dusa, south­ern Italy, on Thurs­day.

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