Although the 150 migrants stranded on the Diciotti rescue ship were able to disembark on Sunday (26 August), Italy’s firebrand Interior Minister Matteo Salvini engaged in another vilification of the EU, calling it “filth” and reiterating threats to stop EU funding.
“Europe has demonstrated once again to be unprecedented filth that doesn’t deserve our money,” the leader of the far-right Lega told supporters on Sunday in the small town of Pinzolo in the northern Italian Alps.
— Walex Incredible (@walexincredible) August 26, 2018
Italy on Saturday began disembarking 150 migrants from a rescue ship that had been docked for five days in a Sicilian port, ending the migrants’ ordeal and a bitter stand-off between Rome’s anti-establishment government and its European Union partners.
The migrants, mainly from Eritrea, had been stranded in the port of Catania since last Monday because the government refused to let them off the boat until other EU states agreed to take some of them in.
Albania lends a hand
Salvini said Albania had offered to accept 20 of the migrants and Ireland 20-25, while the rest would be housed by Italy’s Catholic Church “at zero cost” to the Italian taxpayer.
Relations between Italy and Albania are extremely close. Many Albanians speak Italian and are grateful for Italy opening up to a massive wave of Albanians leaving their country immediately after the collapse of communism.
“The church has opened its heart and opened its wallet,” Salvini added.
A high-level meeting of a dozen EU member states in Brussels on Friday failed to produce an immediate solution for the Diciotti migrants.
“The European Union has decided to turn its back on Italy once again,” Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio wrote on his Facebook page.
“They want the €20 billion paid by Italian citizens? Then let them demonstrate that they deserve it and that they are taking charge of a problem that we can no longer face alone. The borders of Italy are the borders of Europe,” he added.
The Commission said on Friday it will not bow to threats such as those made by Di Maio, who warned his country could stop paying into the EU budget unless other member states agreed to take in migrants arriving in Italy.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte attacked the EU for its lack of support and said Italy may refuse to back the bloc’s multiyear budget currently under discussion.
He said on Facebook that Friday’s meeting in Brussels had been “a defeat for Europe”, and “a clear violation of the spirit of solidarity” that should be a founding principle of the Union.
Prosecutor steps in
Salvini, who has led a popular crackdown against immigration since the government took office in June, also announced that he had been placed under investigation by a Sicilian prosecutor for abuse of office, kidnapping and illegal arrest.
“Being investigated for defending the rights of Italians is a disgrace,” he said.
Salvini a Pinzolo: "non mi fermerà un procuratore, ci prendiamo tutto il paese" https://t.co/xDubfxnYCB
— CaGi #IoSonoAntifascista (@CaressaGiovanni) August 26, 2018
Earlier on Saturday, the United Nations called for reason from all sides after a meeting of envoys from 10 EU states in Brussels a day earlier failed to break the deadlock.
“Frightened people who may be in need of international protection should not be caught in the maelstrom of politics,” the UN refugee agency UNHCR said in a statement.
The agency appealed to EU member states to “urgently” offer relocation places to the rescued people, in line with an agreement at an EU summit in June, and in the meantime, urged Italy to allow “the immediate disembarkation of those on board.”
Rome had refused to back down, despite criticism from rights groups and the opposition, with Salvini saying he considered the attacks he received to be a “badge of honour.”