Italy’s new interior minister has sparked outrage in many parts of the country with recent comments on illegal immigration.
At a meeting in Milan on Monday, Matteo Piantedosi described unauthorized migrants disembarking from humanitarian ships as “residual cargo” that did not need to be saved.
Piantedosi’s announcement followed widespread criticism of Italy’s decision to allow only the most vulnerable migrants to disembark from charity rescue ships.
About 500 migrants were rescued by two NGO-owned ships and disembarked in the Sicilian port of Catania over the weekend. They were on a stranded boat trying to cross from North Africa to Europe.
But on orders from the new Italian government, about 250 migrants on two ships were refused permission to disembark.
Piantedosi called for the two NGO ships to leave the Italian port.
Enrico Letta, leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, condemned Piantedosi’s remarks as “unacceptable”.
Bishop Francesco Savino, vice-president of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI), one of the most prestigious bodies of the Catholic Church in Italy, said: “I worry when I hear some words. I take responsibility for what I say. I accept. I use the phrase ‘selective acceptance’ “I’m afraid and my conscience is troubled. I’m worried when I hear that some of these immigrants are ‘residual baggage.'”
Social media users also criticized Piantedosi’s remarks, describing them as “inhumane”.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) on Monday renewed calls for European governments to urgently offer safe haven to those stranded on NGO ships in the Mediterranean.
The agencies said in a joint statement that they are calling for the immediate disembarkation of the hundreds of people still on board the NGO ship after being rescued in the Maltese and Libyan search and rescue zones in the central Mediterranean.
According to the IOM Missing Migrants Project, 1,337 people have gone missing during migration in the central Mediterranean this year.
Of the 88,000 people who arrived in Italy by sea in 2022, most were rescued by the Italian Coast Guard and other Italian state-led rescue vessels, or 15% by NGO vessels if they arrived independently.
*Written by Zehra Noor Duz
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