As a stand-off continued over people saved at sea by NGO-run search-and-rescue ships, conservative Deputy Premier and Infrastructure Minister Matteo Salvini said Monday that it was time to stop “organized trips” for migrants across the Mediterranean, implying that the migrants are now similar to tourists, or that their crossing is facilitated by the government.
At the weekend the Humanity 1 and Geo Barents docked in the port of Catania but the Italian government only allowed people it considered fragile to disembark. As a result, 35 asylum seekers remain on the Humanity 1, after 144 people were allowed off, and 214 are still aboard the Geo Barents after 357 were let off.
The captain of the Humanity 1 has said, however, that he will not leave Catania until everyone is allowed off the ship and Geo Barents is also still in the Sicilian port. The NGOs running the ships have said they will mount legal challenges to the decision to only allow some of the asylum seekers off.
Two other NGO-run ships are currently in waters near to Catania, the Rise Above, which has 89 people on board, and the Ocean Viking, which has rescued 234. “These are organized trips,” Salvini, who imposed a closed-ports policy on NGO-run ships when he was interior minister between 2018 and 2019 in the first government of ex-premier Giuseppe Conte, told RTL radio.
“The people aboard those ships pay around 3,000 dollars, which gets turned into weapons and drugs for traffickers,” he stated. “They are organized trips that are increasingly dangerous. It is necessary to halt the trafficking not just of human beings, which is huge, but also of the arms and drugs linked to the trafficking of human beings”.
Italy has said the people should apply for asylum to the country whose flag the ship they are picked up by are flying under, including Germany and France, instead of trying to file applications in Italy. A well-informed EU source said Monday that this would be “very difficult”.
Migrant traffickers are selecting the younger, healthier and wealthier of the migrants who cross the Mediterranean in search of a better life or fleeing hunger and conflict, Justice Minister Carlo Nordio said Monday. “The selection of the migrants is not done on the basis of their interests but on those of the traffickers,” he said. “The poorest of the poor, the old, the ill, the moribund, remain there. Those who come to Italy can afford to pay 2-5,000 euros to these organizations that transport them. We take them not because we are good, but because we are resigned. If we were good we would take the poorest of the poor and the most seriously ill of the ill.”