TRIPOLI: Italy’s pugnacious new government took its fight to block migrants to Libya on Monday as a new boat with hundreds on board remained stranded at sea, deepening a crisis shaking Europe.
With European leaders at each others throats over the flood of migrants arriving from North Africa, Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini headed off for a surprise visit to Tripoli.
There, Salvini called for the establishment of processing centres in various unnamed African countries to deal with potential migrants in a move “to help Libya as well as Italy block migration”.
Libya is a key departure point for thousands of migrants hoping to reach Europe, although hundreds drown each year attempting the crossing.
Salvini’s unexpected trip came a day after emergency talks between 16 European Union leaders in a bid to break a longstanding deadlock over who should take in the migrants, the bulk of which have been landing in Italy and Greece.
The crisis came to a head earlier this month when Italy’s new populist government turned away a rescue boat carrying 630 people, which was also rejected by Malta, forcing the vessel to remain at sea until Spain stepped in to offer them safe haven.
But the relief was shortlived, with Italy and Malta turning away a second vessel carrying 234 migrants who were rescued on Thursday, leaving the Lifeline, a German-operated rescue boat, stranded in international waters near Malta.
Ramping up the rhetoric, Salvini issued a blunt rebuke, warning foreign charities to stop rescuing migrants off Libya, accusing them of “causing trouble” and saying Italian ports “are and will be closed to those who aid human traffickers.” His remarks came as Libya’s coastguard said it had rescued nearly a 1,000 people from boats in distress on Sunday, raising to 2,000 the number helped by the Libyans in just five days.