Salvini to France, We are not EU refugee camps

ROME - Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has hit out at French NGOs SOS Mediterranée and Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) after they announced on Monday the resumption of migrant search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean aboard new ship Ocean Viking. 

  Mr Salvini responded by attacking the NGOs, which operated on the Aquarius ship up until 2018.

 "Now they are also leaving the North Sea to help the smugglers in the Mediterranean," he said. 

 Flying the Norwegian flag, Ocean Viking will operate with a crew of 31 members, including 13 SOS Mediterranée sea rescuers and nine members of Doctors Without Borders. 

 "For a year now, we have seen a deterioration in the EU's response to the human tragedy in the Mediterranean," said Frédéric Penard, director of operations for SOS Mediterranée.

 "Let's go back to the sea to save lives," added Claudia Lodesani, president of MSF in Italy. "We cannot remain silent while vulnerable people endure avoidable suffering."

 In recent days Mr Salvini had said "the repeated transshipment of illegal immigrants by private ships objectively constitutes an essential link of a more structured and organised chain that leads to the violation of the rules on the legal entry of persons into the European Union."

 Meanwhile the clash with France and Germany on migratory policies and aid to migrants continues, after Paris and Berlin had asked at the EU summit last week that a document be approved on the landings that would oblige countries facing the Mediterranean to allow migrants to dock.

 "Italy is no longer the refugee camp of Brussels, Paris, Berlin. And it is no longer willing to welcome all immigrants arriving in Europe," Mr Salvini wrote in a letter addressed to his French colleague Christophe Castaner on the eve of the meeting convened by the French government in Paris and open to the 28 EU member states, just to try to find a solution to the landings issue. 

 He has been motivated by the same reasons behind the clash with Castaner and with German minister Horst Seehofer at the informal summit in Helsinki: in the draft of the document that will be brought to tomorrow's meeting, Paris re-proposes the Franco-German proposition which states that migrants should be landed in the "safest nearby port," a proposal already rejected by Italy and Malta in Finland. It is necessary, reads the draft, for a "more predictable and efficient mechanism" to "allow the safe, dignified and rapid landing" of migrants rescued in the "nearest safe harbor." Landings that "should be carried out as quickly as possible, taking into account the vulnerability of the persons concerned and the reception capacities at the ports of landing."

 "I will never sign such a document," Salvini said Thursday in Helsinki, defining the proposal as "unacceptable." And today he was back on the attack: France and Germany "cannot decide on migration policies ignoring the needs of the most exposed countries like us and Malta."

 The minister, as he had already announced, will not be in the French capital. But the technicians of the Interior Ministry who will participate in the meeting have been mandated to "move exclusively within the perimeter outlined, avoiding new and different declarations that are not consistent with the work carried out so far." 

 The position therefore remains the one expressed in the document presented by Italy and Malta at the Helsinki meeting: hotspots in all countries; mandatory redistribution of migrants; repatriation at EU level or distributed among the 28 member states plus expulsions with the creation of a list of “safe countries" so that those who come from those countries are automatically repatriated; further tightening on the NGOs; and revision of the SAR (search and rescue) rules to" “prevent abuses” that favour “illegal and uncontrolled” immigration.