New deputy PM Salvini says Italy cannot be 'Europe's refugee camp'

  • Matteo Salvini is new deputy prime minister in populist coalition government
  • He has already visited Sicily, one of the country's main refugee landing points
  • Told crowd of supporters that  'Italy and Sicily cannot be Europe's refugee camp'
  • Comes as over 50 migrants drowned in Mediterranean trying to reach Europe

By Afp and Julian Robinson for MailOnline

Published: 15:12 EDT, 3 June 2018 | Updated: 11:32 EDT, 4 June 2018

Italy's new hardline interior minister has today sent a 'help us or else' warning to the EU over the migrant crisis - a day after declaring his country was not 'Europe's refugee camp'. 

Matteo Salvini called for 'common sense' as he told Europe to 'gives us a hand to secure our country' in a tweet this morning.

He warned the EU: 'The landings and the reception of hundreds of thousands of 'non-refugees' can not continue to be an Italian problem only. Either Europe gives us a hand to secure our country, or we will have to choose other routes.'

The new deputy prime minister in Italy's populist and anti-EU coalition government yesterday travelled to Sicily, one of the country's main refugee landing points, to push the anti-immigration platform that propelled him to power.

'Italy and Sicily cannot be Europe's refugee camp,' he said in the Sicilian town of Pozzallo, a migration hotspot. 'Nobody will take away my certainty that illegal immigration is a business... and seeing people make money on children who go on to die makes me furious,' he added.

His comments came as more than 50 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean on Sunday, with 48 bodies found off Tunisia's southern coast and nine Syrians - including seven children - killed when their vessel sank off the coast of Turkey.

Italy's new hardline interior minister Matteo Salvini (pictured) has said 'common sense' is needed to stop the country from being 'Europe's refugee camp' as he visited a migrant centre in the south 
Italy's new hardline interior minister Matteo Salvini (pictured) has said 'common sense' is needed to stop the country from being 'Europe's refugee camp' as he visited a migrant centre in the south 

Italy's new hardline interior minister Matteo Salvini (pictured) has said 'common sense' is needed to stop the country from being 'Europe's refugee camp' as he visited a migrant centre in the south 

Salvini (pictured in Catania yesterday) said the 'landings and the reception of hundreds of thousands of "non-refugees" can not continue to be an Italian problem only'
Salvini (pictured in Catania yesterday) said the 'landings and the reception of hundreds of thousands of "non-refugees" can not continue to be an Italian problem only'
Salvini (pictured in Catania yesterday) said the 'landings and the reception of hundreds of thousands of "non-refugees" can not continue to be an Italian problem only'
Salvini (pictured in Catania yesterday) said the 'landings and the reception of hundreds of thousands of "non-refugees" can not continue to be an Italian problem only'

Salvini (pictured in Catania yesterday) said the 'landings and the reception of hundreds of thousands of 'non-refugees' can not continue to be an Italian problem only'

Demonstrators protest against Italy's vice Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini during his visit to Pozzallo
Demonstrators protest against Italy's vice Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini during his visit to Pozzallo

Demonstrators protest against Italy's vice Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini during his visit to Pozzallo

In an interview with Italy's radio 102.5, he later made reference to an up-coming meeting on immigration in Brussels.

Without giving details of the meeting or what exactly was being discussed, he said: 'I will not be there... but there will be our delegation to say no, because Europe a few months ago there he promised aid, on immigration and political asylum, but, instead, the document under discussion tomorrow would penalise Italy and other Mediterranean countries in favor of the countries of the North and East Europe. 

The League has said in the past that it sees a euro exit as a contingency plan if its demands, including greater spending and lower taxes, are not accepted by European partners, rather than a prospect to avert at all costs. 

Coalition parnter Five Star, under leader Luigi Di Maio, has also called for a renegotiation of the EU's strict fiscal rules.

Children among the dead as 50 drown in the Mediterranean

More than 50 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean on Sunday, the majority off the coasts of Tunisia and Turkey.

Tunisian authorities said 48 bodies were recovered off the country's southern coast, close to the city of Sfax, while 68 people were rescued.

'The boat had a maximum capacity of 75 to 90 people, but there were more than 180 of us,' said Wael Ferjani, a Tunisian survivor from the southern region of Gabes.

While water leaked into the boat, some passengers jumped into the sea and drowned, he told AFP.

More than 50 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean on Sunday, the majority off the coasts of Tunisia and Turkey. The Tunisian coastguard is pictured on patrol off the northern town of Bizerte in May
More than 50 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean on Sunday, the majority off the coasts of Tunisia and Turkey. The Tunisian coastguard is pictured on patrol off the northern town of Bizerte in May

More than 50 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean on Sunday, the majority off the coasts of Tunisia and Turkey. The Tunisian coastguard is pictured on patrol off the northern town of Bizerte in May

The latest death toll was published around 7pm, after the search and rescue operation had ended for the day.

The hunt for survivors would continue on Monday morning, Mohammed Salah Sagaama from Sfax's naval base told AFP.

Tunisians and migrants regularly try to cross the Mediterranean to seek a better future in Europe, with 120 mainly Tunisians rescued by their navy in March after trying to reach Italy.

In October, a collision between a migrant boat and a Tunisian military ship left at least 44 dead, in what Prime Minister Youssef Chahed called a 'national disaster'.

The latest shipwreck is the most deadly in the Mediterranean since February 2 when 90 people drowned off the coast of Libya, according to the IOM.

Across the Mediterranean, nine Syrians including seven children drowned when their vessel sank off the coast of Turkey.

The group were travelling in a speedboat intending to head illegally to Europe, when the boat hit trouble off the coast of the southern Antalya province, state media reports said.

Map of Tunisia locating the city of Sfax and Kerkennah island, close to where the bodies of many migrants were recovered on Sunday
Map of Tunisia locating the city of Sfax and Kerkennah island, close to where the bodies of many migrants were recovered on Sunday

Map of Tunisia locating the city of Sfax and Kerkennah island, close to where the bodies of many migrants were recovered on Sunday

The oldest child to drown was 14 and the youngest just three, according to the Anadolu news agency.

Six adults were reportedly rescued including a couple who lost five of their children in the disaster.

Turkey was the main sea route for migrants to Europe in 2015, when more than a million people crossed to Greece.

That year 3,771 people were recorded as dead or missing in the Mediterranean by the United Nations refugee agency.

So far this year, 32,601 migrants and refugees have survived the sea crossing and 649 have been recorded as dead or missing.

A deal struck with the EU in 2016 has drastically reduced the amount of people trying to make the sea crossing, although observers say the numbers have been ticking up again in recent months.

The focal point for Mediterranean migration in recent years has been Italy, where more than 700,000 migrants have arrived since 2013.

An AFPTV video screen grab shows the Habib Bourguiba University Hospital in Sfax, Tunisia, where victims of a migrant shipwreck were taken on June 3, 2018
An AFPTV video screen grab shows the Habib Bourguiba University Hospital in Sfax, Tunisia, where victims of a migrant shipwreck were taken on June 3, 2018

An AFPTV video screen grab shows the Habib Bourguiba University Hospital in Sfax, Tunisia, where victims of a migrant shipwreck were taken on June 3, 2018

On Sunday the country's new hardline interior minister, Matteo Salvini, headed to Sicily, one of the main landing points for those rescued at sea, to push his anti-immigration agenda.

His predecessor signed a controversial deal with authorities and militias in Libya -- the key departure point on the route to Italy -- which has driven down overall arrival numbers by 75 per cent since last summer.

But Salvini has pledged to go further still, vowing to cut the number of arrivals and speed up deportations.

'The good times for illegals is over - get ready to pack your bags,' he said Saturday at a rally in Italy's north.

The latest arrivals, some 158 people, were rescued by a humanitarian boat and reached southern Sicily on Friday.

Meanwhile Spanish maritime rescue units said Sunday they have picked up 240 migrants since the start of the weekend, with one person reported drowned.

Migration will be high on the agenda Tuesday when EU interior ministers meet in Luxembourg and discuss the bloc's contested Dublin rule, under which would-be refugees must file for asylum in the first member country they enter.

Many of those landing on the Mediterranean coast see their arrival point as a pathway to their final destination, but the Dublin rule and tightening border checks have meant migrants are increasingly stuck in southern Europe.

 

The League says the vast majority of migrants in Italy have no right to refugee status, Italy cannot afford to help them and by accepting low pay they worsen the working conditions of Italians.

Salvini kept up the pressure on Monday, vowing to lobby Italy's partners to obtain more EU assistance to handle the problem.

'It's clear and obvious that Italy has been abandoned, now we have to see facts,' Salvini said, when asked about comments from German chancellor Angela Merkel that Europe needs a new approach on immigration. 

Italy has become the main route into Europe for economic migrants and asylum seekers, with hundreds of thousands making the perilous crossing from North Africa each year and thousands dying at sea. The other main route, from Turkey to Greece, was largely shut after more than 1 million people arrived in 2015.

The port town of Pozzallo is also on the migration front line as one of the main landing points for refugees fleeing war, persecution and famine across North Africa and the Middle East.

A crowd of enthusiastic supporters and a smaller group of protesters had earlier gathered in front of the gates of the town's migrant centre, where Salvini would give his speech yesterday, trading insults and nearly coming to blows.

One protester brandished a sign saying 'refugees welcome', while a supporter said 'we don't want any more pests' and others simply chanted 'Matteo, Matteo'.

There were angry scenes as Salvini was confronted by protesters during his visit to Pozzallo
There were angry scenes as Salvini was confronted by protesters during his visit to Pozzallo

There were angry scenes as Salvini was confronted by protesters during his visit to Pozzallo

Pozzallo is on the front line as one of the main landing points for refugees fleeing war, persecution and famine across North Africa and the Middle East
Pozzallo is on the front line as one of the main landing points for refugees fleeing war, persecution and famine across North Africa and the Middle East

Pozzallo is on the front line as one of the main landing points for refugees fleeing war, persecution and famine across North Africa and the Middle East

After delivering his speech, Salvini went inside the centre to meet some of the 158 people who had landed in Pozzallo when they were rescued by a humanitarian boat on Friday.

The rescue operation, which was coordinated by the Italian coast guard, happened just hours after Salvini took his oath of office, and said he would ask his ministry's experts 'how to reduce the number of arriving migrants and increase the number of expulsions'.

'The good times for illegals is over - get ready to pack your bags,' he said on Saturday.

However, while he retained the fighting tone that helped spur his rise to power, he did temper his words when it came to NGOs organising rescues at sea, which he has previously called 'smugglers' and accused of complicity with people traffickers.

'I think it's better to spend money in the countries of origin, and now if there are NGOs that want to work for free, that's fine,' Salvini said.

The leader of the far-right League party also said the new government would 'not take a hard line on immigration but one of common sense'.

His fellow deputy prime minister, head of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement Luigi Di Maio, has also called rescue NGOs 'taxis on the sea', although his rhetoric on immigration is more measured than that of the League.

Salvini is on the road seeking to rally support for his party's candidates in municipal elections later this month, as part of a broader effort to boost the traditionally northern party's profile in the country's poorer south.

Salvini with fellow new deputy prime minister, Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio, during their swearing-in
Salvini with fellow new deputy prime minister, Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio, during their swearing-in

Salvini with fellow new deputy prime minister, Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio, during their swearing-in

European Union interior ministers will meet on Tuesday to discuss possible reforms of the EU's controversial Dublin rule, whereby would-be refugees must file for asylum in the first bloc member-state they enter.

However Salvini said he would not be attending, as he will be in Italy's parliament for a confidence vote on the new coalition with Five Star.

Salvini has condemned the Dublin rule as unfairly burdening Mediterranean countries and leading to 'an obvious imbalance in management, numbers and costs'.

The accord does heavily penalise Italy, which has seen more than 700,000 migrants arrive since 2013.

Previously, the vast majority would continue their journeys to northern Europe, but the introduction of EU-backed processing centres to ensure migrants are identified at their first European entry point and tighter border controls installed by France, Switzerland and Austria are now creating roadblocks along this well-worn route.

A controversial agreement between Italy's former centre-left government and authorities and militias in Libya has triggered a decline in overall arrivals of some 75 percent since the summer of 2017.

But so far this year Italian authorities have still registered more than 13,500 arrivals.

US billionaire George Soros urges the EU to compensate Italy for migrants landing in the country

Billionaire philanthropist George Soros has urged the EU to compensate Italy for migrants landing in the country.

The Hungarian-born US financier said the recent rise of Italy's right wing League party - now in a coalition government with the populist Five Star movement - was partly due to Europe's 'flawed' migration policies that 'imposed an unfair burden' on the country.

Italy has become the focal point for Mediterranean migration in recent years with more than 700,000 migrants arriving in the country since 2013.

Soros said refugees were now no longer able to move on to northern Europe and the situation Italy found itself in was 'unfair and also financially very burdensome'.

The 87-year-old hedge fund owner, writing in Italy's Corriere della Sera newspaper, said: 'Until recently, most refugees could move on to northern Europe, where they wanted to go.

Billionaire philanthropist George Soros (pictured) has urged the EU to compensate Italy for migrants landing in the country
Billionaire philanthropist George Soros (pictured) has urged the EU to compensate Italy for migrants landing in the country

Billionaire philanthropist George Soros (pictured) has urged the EU to compensate Italy for migrants landing in the country

'But since September 2015, both France and Austria closed their borders and the rescued migrants were stuck in Italy.

'This situation was not only unfair but also financially very burdensome at a time when Italy was economically lagging behind most other European countries.

'That was the main reason why Lega Nord, in particular, did so well in the recent elections.'

He suggested that the problem 'cannot be addressed by forced resettlement, but only by the EU financially compensating Italy for the migrants that land there.'

Soros, who pledges thousands each year to help migrants, is dubbed the man who broke the Bank of England after he bet against the pound on Black Wednesday in 1992.

He is also bankrolling Best for Britain, a campaign group dedicated to moderating and ultimately reversing Brexit.

In May, he warned it could take five years for Britain to fully quit the Brussels bloc because of legal wrangling.

The financier suggested the Brexit vote could be reversed and the UK could decide o stay in the EU after all.

Last week, Hungary put forward controversial proposals dubbed the 'Stop Soros' bill to hand out jail sentences to citizens caught assisting illegal migrants. 

The bill suggests that individuals or organisations that help migrants submit requests for asylum when they are not entitled to protection be punished with up to a year in prison.

It came after Soros's Open Society Foundations (OSF) announced it would be moving to Germany, leaving behind what it called 'an increasingly repressive political and legal environment' in Hungary. 

The text of the 'Stop Soros' bill and posted on parliament's website, said: 'Those who provide financial means ... or conduct this organisational activity (for illegal immigration) on a regular basis will be punishable with up to one year in prison.'

'We need an action plan to defend Hungary and this is the STOP Soros package of bills,' the interior ministry said in a comment accompanying the legislation. 

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