The rescue ship Alan Kurdi | Photo: EPA/FABIAN HEINZ/SEA-EYE
The rescue ship Alan Kurdi | Photo: EPA/FABIAN HEINZ/SEA-EYE

The recent cases of the vessels Sea-Watch 3, Alex, and Alan Kurdi mark one year since the standoff began between migrant rescue NGOs and Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini over his closed-port policy.

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini and migrant rescue NGOs clash frequently over the question of whether migrants shuld be allowed to disembark in Italian ports. 
In recent days, controversy ran high over the cases of the vessels Alan Kurdi, with 65 rescued migrants aboard; and Alex, a sailboat with 41 rescued migrants that docked in Lampedusa. 

Just days earlier a standoff between Rome and the captain of the Sea Watch, Carola Rackete, took place.

The NGOs and Salvini have clashed for the past 12 months, ever since the interior minister imposed his closed ports policy. 

Mantra: "No landings" 

Salvini's constant mantra of "no landings" has characterized his policy against the NGOs since the time he became interior minister in June 2018. 

After the cases of the Aquarius and the Open Arms, Salvini warned the NGOs, including the Sea Watch, that "you don't dock in Italy". 

In December 2018, between Christmas and New Years, there was a tense standoff with the crew of the Sea-Watch 3, the ship flying a German flag that had rescued 49 migrants and waited for days for a safe port. The Maltese government approved the ship's landing on January 9, after 10 days, to disembark the rescued passengers that Sea Watch called "hostages of the European Union." 

Ten days later, on January 19, a new rescue set off the deputy premier's anger. "They can forget about starting the usual dance about the port in Italy," Salvini told the crew at the time, while a total of 170 victims had been counted in two shipwrecks in the Mediterranean. Salvini repeated the same message several times during the 11 days that the Sea-Watch 3 remained off the coast of Syracuse, and sent continued requests to the Netherlands for it to remove its flag from the vessel. 

A solution was found on January 30, after the umpteenth back and forth and a government meeting. The migrants were disembarked in Catania after eight European Union countries - Germany, France, Portugal, Romania, Malta, Lithuania, Luxembourg, and Italy - agreed to divide them and take them in. 

Clashes between Salvini and Sea Watch 

The latest clash between Salvini and the Sea Watch organization, prior to the one in recent days that led to the captain breaking the block on landings, took place in May. In that case, 47 migrants were disembarked in Lampedusa, but Salvini wasn't informed of the decision. 

That episode led to a hard confrontation in the government alliance between deputy premier and League leader Salvini and the other deputy premier, Luigi Di Maio of the 5-Star Movement. The Sea-Watch 3 was seized, but it was back at sea on June 1. 

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