Italian minister blocks migrants on ship


Dozens of migrants rescued at sea and brought to an Italian port cannot disembark, the country’s far-right interior minister said, reversing a decision by a fellow minister and opening a rift in government.

A few hours earlier, Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli authorised a coastguard ship carrying 67 migrants rescued off Libya to enter Trapani port in Western Sicily.
“I will not authorise their disembarkation,” Matteo Salvini told a news conference following a meeting of European Union interior ministers in Austria. “If someone does it in my place, he will assume judicial, moral and political responsibility for it.”

Salvini, also leader of the League party and deputy prime minister, is in charge of immigration policy and borders, while Toninelli, a member of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, is in charge of ports and the coastguard.

The rival parties formed a coalition on June 1, pledging to crack down on migration even though arrivals from Libya, where people smugglers operate with impunity, are down more than 85% this year.

Since taking office, Salvini led a high-profile campaign to shut humanitarian rescue ships out of Italian ports, a move supported by 5-Star. But Salvini’s hard-line immigration stance appeared to rankle coalition allies this week.

Instead of a foreign-flagged charity ship, the latest batch of migrants was initially picked up off Libyan by an Italian-flagged supply vessel.
“If the ship has an Italian flag, it’s complicated to tell it not to come to an Italian port because it creates a dangerous precedent,” 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio said.

The supply vessel picked up the migrants on Monday and later asked the Italian coastguard to take them, citing concern about their aggressive reaction when it seemed they might be returned to Libya.

Salvini said someone should be charged for threatening the crew of the Italian supply ship,or the captain lied about tensions on board to convince the coastguard to intervene, in which case his company “must pay”.
“I don’t want to be fooled with. Until there’s clarity about what happened, I won’t authorise anyone to disembark the Diciotti,” Salvini said.

On Thursday Salvini asked EU interior ministers to declare Libya a place of safety where migrants can be taken after they are picked up at sea. German, Austrian and French ministers agreed it could be done, Salvini said.
“I’ve never heard the winds of change blowing so hard in Europe,” Salvini said in Innsbruck.

According to international law, refugees cannot be returned to where their lives are in danger. Both the United Nations and European Union acknowledge Libya is not safe.
“I visited Libya two months ago. The situation is still chaotic there,” Europe’s Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said in Innsbruck.

Salvini received unexpected support on Thursday.

US President Donald Trump said during a press conference in Brussels after a NATO meeting “immigration is taking over Europe” adding the new Italian government came to power because of its “strong immigration policies”.