Opened in 2011, Cara di Mineo was once Europe’s biggest camp for migrants and asylum seekers. Located about an hour’s drive outside of Catania, it was infamous for violence, deaths and scandals. Interior Minister Matteo Salvini arrived in Sicily on July 9 to ‘turn off the lights’ of the camp, fulfilling another of his personal promises.
“[Closing Mineo] is what I personally undertook to do in the spring of 2017. Today, I am doing it. From words to deeds,” said Matteo Salvini, Italy’s Interior Minister, Deputy Prime Minister as well as head of the anti-migrant League Party (La Lega). “One thing is for sure, we will save a lot of money, a lot of resources and a lot of time for our security personnel,” he added at a press conference in sweltering conditions.
Swigging from a bottle of water, Salvini made several references to the “lovely temperatures,” as he smilingly fielded questions from the gathered journalists. He announced that the government and local authorities were still in talks about what to do with the territory and the people who worked there next. He cautioned that “anyone thinking of making money out of mass migration can think again.”
Towards the end of the press conference, he announced that migrants and asylum seekers who had not been sent to other centers would be housed in smaller “more manageable and cheaper centers” in and around Catania.
'A beautiful day for security'
The territory, he said, would be “given back to local residents.” He called the closure a “beautiful day for security in the area,” referring to the theft, aggression, road blocks and other collateral damage which had been visited upon the area and local residents since the camp came into being.
The Cara di Mineo camp once hosted more than 4,000 people. When Salvini took office, the number of migrants resident in Mineo was just over 2,000. By the time the Italian government announced the closure in June, the Italian news agency ANSA reported that number was down to 152.
Salvini concluded that his solution of limiting the number of migrant boat arrivials was helping everyone. Less boats arriving meant less problems, less money spent and less deaths, he said. His statement is contradicted by international agencies who acknowledge that although the numbers trying to cross to Italy have diminished, the number of estimated deaths has not dropped as dramatically.
In 2018, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimated that the death toll across the whole Mediterranean was 1.6 percent, in 2019 it is 1.3 percent despite the numbers of attempted crossings having almost halved. Asked by journalists if his figures for the numbers of arrivals in Italy this year included the so-called “ghost ships” (ships which enter Italy under the radar and land before the authorities can intercept them,) Salvini denied that “ghost ships” existed. He insisted that the number of arrivals in 2019 stood at 3,020 and included all sorts of ships in all sorts of sizes "from pedalos to sailing boats." He called his battle against arrivals a “battle against people smuggling and drug trafficking.”
Striking a blow to organized crime
The minister reminded journalists that closing Mineo was also a blow to the Nigerian mafia which, according to Salvini, had “established its headquarters in Mineo.” The Italian news agency ANSA added that the Nigerian mafia was thought to have been running huge drug dealing operations across Sicily from Mineo. Salvini estimated the money saved in closing the center should amount to around 100,000 euros a day.
One journalist asked Salvini about the situation in Libya. The minister replied that he couldn’t control what was going on in Libya but that at least 40 percent of arrivals in Italy this year were coming from Tunisia, not Libya. To that end, he said that he had called his counterpart in Tunisia, the interior minister, to talk about finding more solutions. He emphasized that since there were “no problems, no war, no plague, no nothing,” in Tunisia then people could be sent back there without any problems. He had called upon the Tunisian authorities to not just accept charter return flights but also boats sent back to Tunisia.
The Italian newspaper La Sicilia reported that local farmers would be “breathing a sigh of relief,” at the news that Mineo is closed. They have been the victims of serial theft from their fields since the camp opened.
At the same time as closing the camp, Salvini opened up some new police operations, a commission for public security and a new department for traffic police.
Italy’s left-leaning daily newspaper, La Repubblica reported that Salvini announced on Monday at a national security committee that he had decided to use the Italian navy to defend Italian ports and also to monitor departures from the Libyan and Tunisian coasts.