Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini is under investigation by a Sicilian prosecutor for refusing to allow more than 150 migrants and refugees to enter Italy.
Salvini, who is also Italy‘s interior minister, is being investigated for abuse of office, kidnapping and illegal arrest, after forcing refugees to stay on a ship at the Sicilian port of Catania for almost a week.
Salvini blocked them from disembarking the Diciotti in the absence of an agreement from other European member states to share the responsibility of relocation.
Following the news of the investigation, Italian authorities allowed people to get off the ship, hours after Saturday’s decision to let 16 people off who were unwell.
Salvini, leader of the far-right anti-migration League party, responded to the investigation into his conduct on his Facebook page.
“The prosecutor of Agrigento wants my information? Don’t waste your time, I’ll give it to you. Matteo Salvini, born in Milan on 9/3/1973, resident in Milan with Italian citizenship,” he said.
“I’m proud to be questioned and arrested if for defending and securing the borders of our country.”
The Diciotti vessel docked at the Sicilian port of Catania on Monday night after rescuing 190 people from dinghies in distress off the Maltese coast in the Mediterranean.
Eleven women and five men – two of whom are suspected to have tuberculosis – were given permission by Italian authorities to get off on Saturday, following an onboard visit by doctors requested by the health ministry.
Of the 190 people originally on board the Diciotti, 27 unaccompanied children and 13 others had previously been allowed to disembark.
Stand-offs with EU
The Diciotti is the latest in a string of cases which saw Italy, as well as Malta, refuse or delay the disembarkation of people rescued in the central Mediterranean, often after spending many months in detention in Libya.
Under European Union (EU) law, migrants must seek asylum in the country they arrive, leading to regular spats between Italy and its EU partners.
In June, Salvini refused docking rights to the Aquarius, a rescue ship with 629 refugees and migrants on board, forcing it to travel to Spain.
The following month, several European countries promised to relocate 270 out of more than 400 migrants and refugees that had arrived in the Sicilian port of Pozzallo.
Arrivals to Italy – and to Europe overall – have more than halved in 2017 to just over 172,300.
More than 3,000 people died or went missing in the same year.
Salvini’s League party was one of the winners of the March elections. He has been at odds with the EU since Italy had its new government was installed.
Recent polls say that popular support for his anti-migration platform has been increasing since the new government was installed in early June.
However, EU partners, humanitarian groups and international organisations like the UN have heavily criticised Italy’s stricter stance on the acceptance of refugees.