Forty-nine rescued refugees and migrants, including 12 minors, remained stranded at sea on Tuesday on board a nonprofit rescue ship as Italy‘s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini barred them from disembarking in Italy.
Rescuers from the Italian aid group Mediterranea Saving Humans pulled the migrants off a sinking rubber dinghy near Libya on Monday and brought them close to the Italian island of Lampedusa.
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They were refused permission to disembark on the island with Salvini tweeting Monday evening: “Our ports were and remain CLOSED.”
I porti erano e rimangono CHIUSI.https://t.co/TSle90ViEf
— Matteo Salvini (@matteosalvinimi) March 18, 2019
On Tuesday morning, Salvini tweeted again saying that Italy will not give in to “blackmail” by social groups that are “accomplices to human traffickers.”
The migrants “can be cured, fed, clothed, given all kinds of comfort goods, but as far as I’m concerned, with my permission, they won’t set foot in Italy,” Salvini told SkyTG24 news channel on Tuesday.
His ministry issued a directive on Monday saying ships rescuing people in areas of the Mediterranean that are not Italian and that do not coordinate with the command centre in Rome have no right to use Italy as a port of safety.
Any infringement of international maritime or Italian law “can be read as a premeditated action to bring illegal immigrants to Italy and facilitate human trafficking”, he said.
On Tuesday, Salvini said the ministry was creating a commission of “experts and police” to ensure the directive was enacted.
Mayor challenging Salvini
The mayor of Lampedusa is challenging Salvini’s assertion that Italian ports are closed.
Mayor Salvatore “Toto” Martello said that more than 3,000 migrants arrived in Lampedusa last year on smuggler boats.
The Mediterranea Saving Humans vessel, the Mare Jonio, flies an Italian flag and is currently stationed off Lampedusa, a small Italian island roughly halfway between Sicily and North Africa.
Salvini has claimed that his closed-door immigration policy has contributed to a dramatic drop in migrant arrivals and in migrant deaths at sea.
Preventing migrants from leaving Libya or returning them there is controversial because they are usually exposed to serious human rights violations.
In January, Human Rights Watch issued a report saying that refugees and migrants locked in overcrowded Libyan camps, including children, have no access to decent food, healthcare or sanitation, and are routinely beaten by guards and other authorities.