Italy's Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini on Friday confirmed that a letter has been sent to The Netherlands asking them to take charge of the migrant ship run by the Sea-Watch NGO with 47 rescued asylum seekers aboard.
Due to bad weather, the vessel has been allowed to enter Italian territorial waters, Italian coast guard sources said on Friday. The city of Naples has indicated that permission will be given to the Sea-Watch ship to dock there.
“Fifteen minutes ago I sent a letter to the Dutch government in which the it is officially and formally tasked with dealing with this vessel, which flies the Dutch flag, and of the passengers on board,” Salvini said.
League party leader Salvini has ruled out the ship docking in Naples, saying his policy of refusing access to Italy’s ports to NGO-run migrant-rescue ships will not change. “I can’t wait to have them arrive, safe and sound, in another European country,” Salvini said in response to the statement by the city. “There’s no space (for them) in Italy”.
Deputy Premier and Labour and Industry Minister Luigi Di Maio said earlier on Friday that he believes the Dutch ambassador to Italy should be summoned over the issue.
But The Netherlands has refused to take in the migrants from NGO rescue ship Sea-Watch 3 as demanded by Italy, De Telegraaf reported.
“Until there are European accords on structural solutions for the migrants on board the (migrant smuggler) boats, the Netherlands will not take part in ad hoc solutions,” said Dutch Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration Mark Harbers, according to De Telegraaf.
He said “the Netherlands has noted the Italian request, but is not responsible for the Sea-Watch 3”.
Evidence was being collected to criminally charge all the members of the crew of Sea-Watch 3 for taking part in clandestine immigration, Italian Interior Ministry sources said.
Salvini faces possible prosecution for allegedly “kidnapping” migrants aboard migrant rescue ship Diciotti in a stand-off with the European Union last year.Catania’s court for ministers on Thursday requested authorization to proceed with the case.
Salvini refused to allow over 100 migrants saved by the Coast Guard to get off the Diciotti ship during a 10-day stand-off with the EU in August. The request was made despite the fact that Italian prosecutors in the Sicilian city had requested the case be dropped.
“They are trying again,” the League leader said in a live Facebook broadcast. “Once again I am under investigation for kidnapping people and minors, with a possible term of between three and 15 years.
“I wouldn’t get that even if I were a drug dealer or a rapist. “Now it’s up to the Senate and the Senators will have to say yes or no, free or innocent, trial or not.
“But I say right away that my position is not changing one centimetre. “I ask the Italian people if they think I should keep being minister, exercising rights and duties, or if should ask this court or another about immigration policy. “I admit it, I confess it and I stand by it – I stopped the disembarkment.
“And I declare myself guilty of the crimes of the coming months, because I’m not changing”.
The Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) on Friday also expressed “concern” about the impact of Italy’s new migration-and-security decree. The body claims that the legislation, drafted by Salvini, could have a negative impact on the identification of trafficking victims and in providing reception facilities for unaccompanied minors.
French President Emmanuel Macron has meanwhile signalled that Salvini is being taken seriously as a political force. Salvini has called Macron a “very bad president” and urged him to resign. On Sunday Macron reacted to Salvini’s remarks.
The French head of state initially said he would not respond to the the Italian Interior Minister, who called him “very bad president”, but quickly changed his mind to return the insults. “I won’t answer, that’s what they’re waiting for. So good luck to them, enjoy the agitation, enjoy the ride, as far as I’m concerned, I speak to President Conte,” Macron told reporters on Sunday during a state visit to Egypt.
Asked about Salvini’s remarks, Macron said: “All of this has frankly no importance.”
But Salvini has gained considerable leverage to bend the establishment to his agenda, his chief strategist Guglielmo Picchi, a former Barclays Plc investment banker and currently an undersecretary at the Italian Foreign Ministry, told Bloomberg.
If Salvini manages to double the share of the vote his party won in a general election in March, “then, just as Merkel was Europe’s guide for many years, now it will be Salvini,” Picchi said in an interview. “Everyone will have to talk to Salvini. His leadership will no longer be just Italian, but European too.”
Salvini has been directing his criticism at Germany’s chancellor as well as the unpopular French President.