Since coming into power in May, Italy’s new far-right coalition government has made a point of turning away ships carrying migrants — even ones operated by humanitarian missions.
On Sunday, though, Italy allowed for the disembarkation of 150 migrants from a rescue ship that had been docked in the Sicilian port of Catania, as Italy pushed for other European Union countries to a accept some of the mostly Eritrean asylum seekers on board.
Initially, according to the AFP news agency, only women and children were allowed to disembark on Saturday, with some refusing to do so, fearing permanent separation from their families.
Albania and Ireland offered to take 40-45 of the people on board, after an urgent call from the U.N.’s refugee agency on Saturday, which said that “frightened people who may be in need of international protection should not be caught in the maelstrom of politics.”
Allowing ships carrying hundreds of migrants to remain either stranded at sea or stuck at port is all part of the anti-immigrant, anti-refugee playbook of the country’s new Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who loves President Donald Trump and is, in fact, seen as the European Union’s Trump.
According to Reuters, Salvini, who is also Italy’s deputy prime minister, is being investigated by a Sicilian prosecutor for “abuse of office, kidnapping and illegal arrest.”
Echoing Trump’s response to the U.S. Justice Department investigation into links between his campaign and the Russian effort to influence the 2016 presidential election, on Saturday, Salvini told supports at a rally that “being investigated for defending the rights of Italians is a disgrace.”
Like the U.S. president, Salvini is an enthusiastic tweeter, often using the platform to reply to the media announce policy and defend himself against attacks.
In a pinned post, he opened by thanking those who used the “Nobody touches Salvini!” hashtag (a bit like Teflon Trump?). He tweeted, “Rest assured, I’m not afraid of anything: investigate, question me, arrest me. I am proud to fight to defend the borders, protect the safety of Italians and protect the future of our children. I love you.”
Grazie a chi sta twittando #nessunotocchiSalvini! 😘
State tranquilli, non ho paura di nulla: indaghino, mi interroghino, mi arrestino. Io sono FIERO di battermi per difendere i confini, tutelare la sicurezza degli italiani e proteggere il futuro dei nostri figli.
Vi voglio bene. pic.twitter.com/R07MUJ2Vt3
— Matteo Salvini (@matteosalvinimi) August 25, 2018
Salvini equates a rise in migration to an increase in the threat of terorrism. His strategy of turning boats carrying hundreds of migrants — including critically ill people — has paid off.
In June, he left a boat carrying around 600 people at sea until Spain agreed to take the vessel and all on board. That added roughly a week to the ordeal of people on board, some of whom rescue workers said were severely psychologically distressed and threatening suicide.