Italy takes in migrants despite ‘closed ports’ policy


ROME: Over 60 migrants rescued at sea by the Italian navy and a charity ship disembarked in Italy on Friday, despite far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini’s “closed ports” policy, while three died and dozens more were missing after another migrant boat capsized off Tunisia.

Thirty-six people plucked from a floundering boat off Libya by a navy patrol boat on Thursday were brought to Sicily after four European countries agreed to host some of them.

Another 30 people rescued by the Mare Jonio charity ship in a separate operation — including three women and a one-year-old girl — were disembarked on the Italian island of Lampedusa.

In the late afternoon 70 more migrants were picked up by Italian police off the coast of Lampedusa, according to media reports.

However another migrant boat on its way to Italy capsized off the coast of Tunisia and while 16 people were rescued from it, three bodies were recovered and dozens more remain missing.

Salvini had initially refused to open Italy’s ports to the migrants.

On Friday he presented a draft law which would give him the power to ban any boat from Italian waters for public order reasons.

The text, which must still be approved by ministers, also include fines of up to 5,500 euros ($6,160) per migrant for each rescue boat landing in Italy which has not complied with the coastguard’s instructions.

Meanwhile, the interior ministry said it was opening an investigation into aiding illegal immigration and impounded the Mare Jonio, which is charted by the left-wing collective Mediterranea.

The ship was first seized in March after bringing rescued migrants to Italy, but released after a week. The Italian coast guard declared the vessel unsuitable for rescues last month.

Rome’s populist government has taken an increasingly hard line on migration, and Salvini, head of the anti-immigrant League party, last month signed a new directive banning charity vessels from rescuing migrants off Libya.

Charity ships have drawn fire from Rome by attempting on occasion to stop migrants being taken back to crisis-hit Libya, which human rights organisations say is not safe for repatriations.

Mediterranea said Friday that the Mare Jonio had entered Italian territorial waters near the island of Lampedusa, where it was met by two police patrol boats for controls.

Impounding the boat “is an attempt to stop us. But for us the important thing is that these people should be safe and sound.” the group said in online comments.