Italy's interior minister heads to Libya to block migrant flows

Italy's interior minister heads to Libya to block migrant flows
Matteo Salvini recently generated heavy international criticism for barring the Aquarius rescue ship carrying 630 migrants from docking in Italy.
2 min read
25 June, 2018
Matteo Salvini attending swearing in ceremony of new government [Getty]
Italy's far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini flew to Libya on Monday to block migrant flows, posting to Twitter his departure to the North African country. 

"Mission Libya, we've left!", he said, sharing a selfie on board a military plane to Libya.

Italy's new populist government has generated heavy criticism from fellow EU states for turning away rescue vessels. 

Salvini, who will be the first member of the new government to visit Libya, on Sunday bluntly told foreign charities to stop rescuing migrants off the North African coast, where one group said 1,000 people were on boats in distress.

"Let the Libyan authorities do their work of rescue, recovery and return (of migrants) to their country, as they have been doing for some time, without the ships of the voracious NGOs disturbing them or causing trouble," he said.  

"Italian ports are and will be closed to those who aid human traffickers," he said.

In an interview published Monday with the newspaper La Repubblica, Libya's deputy premier Ahmed Maiteeq said he hoped to work with the Italian government on the issue.

"The cooperation between Italy and Libya is crucial," he said, adding that the arrival of migrants was also "a major problem" for his country.

"Traffickers who bring migrants to Italy are dangerous criminal groups for us, who prevent Libya from taking a step toward a difficult normalisation."

"All of Europe must think of structural measures to take in African countries to stop migrants."

Hundreds of people fleeing conflict are caught in the midst of a European row over how to deal with the influx of ships carrying migrants. One boat, the Lifeline, remained in limbo on Sunday with 239 Africans aboard. 

"They have the right to live," Axel Steier, a Lifeline founder, told the New York Times. "And they have a right to seek asylum, and that isn’t being guaranteed at the moment. It’s kind of like you are jailed on the ocean.”

Both Malta and Italy refused to take it in after the Aquarius suffered a similar fate until Spain allowed it to dock. 

The EU held emergency talks on Sunday to find a way forward on the migrant issue, despite a longstanding deadlock over which countries should take migrants who land in Italy and other frontline Mediterranean countries. 

On Saturday, French President Emmanuel Macron said that EU states that refuse to accept migrants should face financial penalties.

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