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