Migrants Disembark After Standoff as Italy’s Salvini Faces Probe

Migrants Disembark After Standoff as Italy’s Salvini Faces Probe
Migrants Disembark After Standoff as Italy’s Salvini Faces Probe

Italy allowed all 150 migrants to leave a rescue ship that had been docked for five days at a Sicilian port amid a five-day standoff between the Italian government and the EU. Italy’s far-right interior minister is facing a probe over the incident.

Prosecutors in Sicily on Saturday opened an inquiry into Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini for “illegal confinement, illegal arrest and abuse of power,” reports said, over his refusal to allow 150 rescued migrants off the Diciotti coastguard ship, France24 reported.

Authorities earlier allowed a dozen migrants to leave the Diciotti, where they have been stranded since the boat docked at the port of Catania in Sicily on Monday night.

Rome had blocked the migrants from stepping off the boat, leaving them trapped as Italy pushes other EU nations to take them in. Albania, which is not an EU member, was the only country to offer to host some of those on board the ship.

Their fate sparked a fresh immigration row between Italy’s populist government and the EU, with Rome on Friday threatening to pull some of its funding for the bloc as a “compensatory measure” if it refuses to help.

Prosecutors in Sicily said they were now investigating Salvini in connection with the migrants’ plight. The minister earlier brushed aside reports of a broader inquiry into who was responsible saying late Friday that officials were following orders issued by “the director—that is to say, me.”  

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) called on EU member states to “urgently” provide places for those stranded on the ship. “In the meantime, UNHCR urges Italian authorities to allow the immediate disembarkation of those on board,” it said.

***Far-Right Boost

Salvini stopped the majority of the migrants disembarking from the Diciotti after they were rescued on August 15, but he allowed 27 unaccompanied minors off the boat on Wednesday.

Opinion polls suggest that Salvini’s stance has boosted his far-right League party’s approval rating to around 30%—a more than 10 point jump from its showing in March’s election.

It is now level with the Five Star Movement with which it has governed Italy since early June.

According to Salvini’s own ministry, migrant arrivals are more than 80% down on the same period last year, with just over 19,500 arriving up to August 23 compared to 98,000 in 2017.


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