Italy’s new PM Matteo Salvini is facing a problem similar to the problem Donald Trump faces in the United States.
Local area politicians in Italy are defying the government’s orders to shut down sanctuary for illegal migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea from Africa.
In defiance of orders from the new Italian populist government that ports were closed to migrants from Libya, Leoluca Orlando, the mayor of Palermo, said he would allow a rescue boat with 629 on board to dock in the Sicilian capital.
In the first evidence of the new government’s hardline approach, the interior minister and leader of the far right League, Matteo Salvini, said on Sunday that all Italian ports were closed to the rescue boat, Aquarius.
The Maltese government rejected a request to take the boat, saying international law required that the migrants should be taken to Italian ports.
International law, my butt. Italy is a sovereign country. It has its own laws that should supersede so-called international law.
Writing on his Facebook page, Salvini foreshadowed a wider EU dispute about responsibility for migrants from Africa saying: “Malta takes in nobody. France pushes people back at the border, Spain defends its frontier with weapons. From today, Italy will also start to say no to human trafficking, no to the business of illegal immigration.”
However, in defiance of Salvini’s orders, Orlando said he was ready to open Palermo’s seaport to allow the rescued migrants to safely disembark.
Orlando said: “Palermo in ancient Greek meant ‘complete port’. We have always welcomed rescue boats and vessels who saved lives at sea. We will not stop now. Salvini is violating the international law. He has once again shown that we are under an extreme far-right government.’’
The decision was backed by other mayors in Italy’s south, including those in Naples, Messina and Reggio Calabria, who all said they were ready to disobey Salvini’s order and allow Aquarius to dock and disembark in their seaports.
More than 600,000 migrants have reached Italy by boat from Africa in the past five years, and it is estimated as many as 500,000 are still in Italy. The arrivals were one cause of the electoral success of Salvini’s League, even though the previous government had overseen a big drop in the numbers coming from Libya over the past 12 months.
Salvini said: “My aim is to guarantee a peaceful life for these youths in Africa and for our children in Italy,” adding the slogan: “We will shut the ports.”
If Salvini has the power he could impose a naval blockade on the Port of Palermo, which would prevent rescue ships from docking and discharging their cargo of black sludge.
Alternatively, he could just arrest the Mayor and replace him with someone on board with keeping Italy for the Italians.