Rome: Italy’s hard-right, anti-migrant Interior Minister Matteo Savini on Thursday deplored attempts by German charity Lifeline to rescue 300-400 migrants in the Mediterranean, an operation allegedly taking place in Libyan waters.
He also said that the government wants asylum seekers’ claims to be assessed at reception centres in Libya and elsewhere in North Africa to ensure that only genuine refugees are allowed into Europe.
“This is the umpteenth, very serious violation by a charity rescue vessel in Libyan waters. Enough is enough” Salvini wrote on Facebook.
Lifeline tweeted on Thursday that it needed help from Italian coastguard and merchant ships in the area with the rescue operation.
In a later tweet, the charity said a Libyan coastguard vessel was sailing towards the migrants, warning: “We expect professional behaviour and that the Libyan asset respects international law!”
Charity ships are barred from rescuing migrants under a controversial 2017 code of conduct brought in by Salvini’s predecessor, Marco Minniti, a member of the centre-left government that ruled Italy for the past five years.
Meanwhile,Salvini told Italian public broadcaster Rai’s Agora chat show that “our project is to set up reception centres in North Africa, before migrants set sail aboard the people traffickers’ boats”.
“In this way, we know in advance who has the right to travel to Europe.”
Salvini expressed confidence that the European Union will reform its current immigration and asylum rules requiring migrants to register and claim asylum in the first European country they enter – which is most often Italy.
“I am hopeful the Dublin Regulation will be revised. Every year, Italy pays six billion euros to the EU – only to get a poke in the eye in return,” Salvini said.
“If there is no change, we will be forced to review this funding.”
He accused Spain and Malta of taking far fewer migrants than they should and other EU countries of “looking the other way” as the Mediterranean migration crisis continues despite a recent drop in the number of arrivals and of asylum claims.
Renewed and deep divisions have arisen between and within European governments over the migrant influx and the EU’s current asylum system, prompting European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker to convene an emergency meeting in Brussels on Sunday on migration.
The leaders of Germany, France, Italy, Greece, Austria, Bulgaria, Spain and Malta have all been invited to attend Sunday’s meeting which comes just four days ahead of the June European Council summit at which migration will be a key focus.
Italy, where over 700,000 boat migrants have arrived since 2014, has called in vain for other EU states to share the burden. Salvini who took office in early June, has vowed to deport half a million illegal immigrants from Italy.