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Matteo Salvini. Screenshot from RAI
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Italy stops French initiative to open ports to migrant landings

Italian Interior Ministry officials at the informal EU interior ministries' meeting on Mediterranean migration in Paris on Monday stopped a French initiative towards a joint document and demanded the rotation of safe ports for landing migrants.

Published: July 23, 2019, 8:37 am

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    The Interior Ministry reiterated the request for “mechanisms of temporary distribution of all irregular migrants and rotation of safe ports for landing the persons rescued at sea, so that reception does not weigh only on Italy and Malta who thus risk becoming the hot spot of Europe”.

    Matteo Salvini, Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister, criticised France and Germany over their handling of the European migrant crisis.

    He said both countries could no longer “decide migration policies and ignore the demands of the most-exposed countries like us and Malta,” adding that “Italy is no longer the refugee camp of Brussels, Paris, Berlin.

    “It is no longer willing to welcome all immigrants arriving in Europe. We intend to make ourselves respected. I explained it in Helsinki and now I have put it on paper to my French counterpart.”

    Fourteen other member countries of the European Union supported a new “solidarity mechanism” proposed by Germany and France to distribute migrants across the bloc, according to French President Emmanuel Macron. In addition to France and Germany, Finland, Luxemburg, Portugal, Lithuania, Croatia and Ireland are in favor the draft paper presented in Paris on how to handle NGOs picking up  migrants from Africa off the Libyan coast.

    But the French president himself reiterated and emphasized the fact that landings must take place at the nearest port, which is precisely the point disputed strongly by the Italian Interior Ministry.

    Reuters reported on Monday that EU Foreign affairs and Interior Ministers had gathered in Paris to discuss immigration and security issues following a meeting in Finland last week.

    “The conclusion of this morning’s meeting is that, in principle, 14 member states, at this stage, have expressed their agreement with the Franco-German document,” Macron said but he did not give any details of the plan. He only said the initiative would be “quick” and “automatic”.

    Salvini did not take part in the meeting. In a letter to his French counterpart Christophe Castaner, he warned against unilateral decisions “solely taken in Paris and Berlin”.

    Macron had pointed a finger at the chair of the absent Salvini. “I am sorry that someone has decided not to intervene. The only way to get results is through cooperation,” said Macron, who launched an appeal to take responsibility for migrants coming from Libya while repeatedly stressing that “the effectiveness of solidarity must be strengthened”.

    Salvini’s disagreement with Berlin hinges on remarks made by the Minister of the Interior, Horst Seehofer, who does not want to hear about migrant landings in other EU countries without applying the rule of the nearest safe port.

    Salvini reiterated his position on this issue: “The meeting on migrants organised in Paris was a mistake of form and substance. In the form, because it was convened with little notice and in an absolutely irregular way since we are in the Finnish presidency semester.”

    He added: “I repeat it today, after the French and German summit in Paris turned out to be a flop and was largely deserted by European Ministers: Italy has raised its head, does not take orders and does not act as a servant. If Macron wants to discuss immigrants, rather come to Rome”.

    The Italian position is shared by many EU capitals, above all on the need to “split the rules of search and rescue to prevent their abuses aimed at favoring illegal and uncontrolled immigration”.

    The objective of Salvini is, of course, to combat the activities of NGOs in the Mediterranean and to ensure that they “act in full compliance with the international legal framework and national legislation”.

    There was only one Italian technical delegation in Paris on Monday, commissioned by Salvini to “move exclusively within the defined perimeter, avoiding new and different declarations inconsistent with the work carried out so far”. This was decided in order to prevent Paris and Berlin from attempting a blitz to reaffirm Italy as the only EU landing port.

    NGO-run migrant rescue ships will be fined up to one million euros for defying a ban on entering Italian waters under a new League amendment to the government’s second security and migrants decree.

    These skippers will be arrested if they fail to obey the orders of police or navy ships, a second amendment read. Sea-Watch3 captain Carola Rackete was questioned in Agrigento on Thursday on suspicion of aiding illegal immigration and refusing to obey a navy ship.

    Leaving the prosecutor’s office she appealed for all countries to take in rescued migrants after defying Salvini’s closed ports policy to land 40 migrants at Lampedusa recently.

    Her arrest for purposely ignoring the ban as well as ramming a police boat was not upheld in a ruling that greatly angered Salvini supporters. Rackete has meanwhile returned to Germany, a spokesman for the German migrant rescue NGO said on Friday.

    Rackete, 31, left Italy immediately after being questioned by Agrigento prosecutors in a probe into alleged favouring illegal immigration, according to Italian sources.

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