Report. Interior Minister Matteo Salvini refused to let an Italian Coast Guard vessel return to its own country after it rescued 141 migrants. ‘This has never happened before in any other country in the world.’

Salvini blocks Coast Guard from returning to port because migrants are on board

First, he authorized a Coast Guard vessel to take 141 migrants on board. Then, while it was heading to Lampedusa, he ordered the island’s port closed, preventing their landing. This was only the latest skirmish in Matteo Salvini’s personal wall against the whole world: against migrants, NGO ships, the European Union, and now—would you believe it—against our own vessels. 

He started this latest fight without regard for anyone, at the expense of desperate people fleeing Libya. “I will not give any permission for landing until a concrete commitment arrives from Europe to receive all immigrants aboard the ship,” proclaimed Salvini. Neither Transport Minister Toninelli, under whose jurisdiction the Coast Guard ship lies, nor Defense Minister Trenta, nor anyone else from the yellow-green government has uttered a single word about what is happening.

The day after the “worst Mediterranean tragedy” of 2019 (according to UNHCR, which estimates the shipwreck resulted in 150 dead), and while the bodies of the dead migrants were still being recovered from the sea off Libya—on Friday, 62 were recovered off the city of Khoms—in Italy, the Interior Minister was back to attacking the European Union. 

At the center of what could result in fresh kidnapping charges against Salvini, lies the ship “Gregoretti,” call sign CP 262, belonging to the Italian Coast Guard, carrying 141 migrants recovered in the course of two rescue interventions carried out on Thursday in Maltese waters. These are two groups of men, women and children: 50 rescued by the fishing trawler “Accursio Giarratano” from Sciacca, and 91 others rescued by a patrol boat of the Financial Police. Six of them, who are in need of medical care, were allowed to land on Lampedusa on Saturday, but the other 135 remain stranded on board.

Salvini, who had started the day on Friday by attacking French President Emmanuel Macron (“Who do you think you are? The days of Napoleon are over,” he said in retaliation against Macron’s criticism after he failed to appear at the Paris Summit on Immigration on Monday), took the opportunity to pick a fight with Brussels. 

Thus, while the Interior Ministry was sending a request to the European Commission to take action in finding countries willing to accept the migrants, and while sources from the Ministry of Transport said that an agreement had been reached with their colleagues from the Interior Ministry regarding the landing of the migrants, Salvini went back to threatening the same approach as with the Sea Watch 3: “No one will land until there are full details of the countries where these migrants will go,” he said. “Faith is good, but I will do as Doubting Thomas.” 

The scandal inevitably put Danilo Toninelli in the crosshairs of the opposition, which criticized him severely for doing nothing to resolve a situation involving a ship under his ministry’s jurisdiction. “With his silence in the face of the ‘seizure’ of one of his own ships by Minister Salvini, Toninelli has definitively lost any shred of dignity,” the Democrat Enrico Borghi said. 

“Is there anyone in this government with the dignity and strength to put a stop to the theatrics of the current Interior Minister?” echoed Nicola Fratoianni from Sinistra Italiana. “This has never happened before in any other country in the world: a ship belonging to its own armed forces is not allowed to dock at a port in their own country.”

Finally, on Saturday night, due to worsening weather conditions, the Gregoretti ship was allowed to dock in Augusta, Sicily. However, as of late Monday evening, the 135 migrants are still stranded aboard the ship and not allowed to set foot on land, as the authorities wait for the “details” required by Minister Salvini regarding which countries will ultimately take them in.

As we wait for the new European Commission headed by Ursula von der Leyen to take office at the end of October, the outgoing European Commission had a statement regarding the shipwreck off Libya, with a death toll estimated around 150. The EU High Representative Federica Mogherini and the two Commissioners Johannes Hahn and Dimitris Avramopoulos have said in a joint statement on Friday that “Libya’s current system of managing irregular migration and arbitrarily detaining refugees and migrants has to end.” That’s a request that the European Union could also make of its ostensible ally, Prime Minister Fayez al Sarraj in Tripoli.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Your weekly briefing of progressive news.

You have Successfully Subscribed!