Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini announced during a meeting of the country's national public order and security committee that Italy will use navy and finance police ships "to defend" Italian ports and to control migrant departures.
Italy will deploy navy and finance police ships "to defend" Italian ports as well as to control migrant departures. Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini announced the decision during a national public order and security committee meeting. Salvini said military ships are needed "to fight illegal immigration."
Meanwhile, Pope Francis held a Mass for migrants in which he said "the weakest and most vulnerable must be helped", and "mini" landings continue unabated in Lampedusa.
Satisfaction over reduction in landings
During the meeting, Salvini said he is satisfied about the reduction in migrant landings, which he said have "gone from about 17,000 last year to 3,000 this year."
According to interior ministry sources, the main measures that emerged from the meeting include: increased controls to reduce departures, with the use of radar, aircraft, and ships; the presence of navy and finance police ships to defend Italian ports; contacts with Tunisia to improve and increase repatriations and to reduce departures; sending 10 Italian patrol boats to the Libyan Coast Guard to be delivered by the end of summer; and amendments to the second security decree to make the fight against human trafficking more efficient and to increase the penalties for traffickers.
The committee meeting comes after days of controversy between Salvini and Defense Minister Elisabetta Trenta, who said what has happened in recent days with migrant rescue ships could have been avoided. "I had said to Matteo Salvini that without Operation Sophia, the NGOs will return," Trenta said. "He didn't want to listen, and now he's complaining," she said.
Salvini responded by telling Trenta that "numbers reply: Operation Sophia rescued tens of thousands of migrants and brought them all to Italy, because that's what the operation's rules required." Operation Sophia rescued 18,390 migrants in 2017-2018.
'Military ships against traffickers'
Operation Sophia aside, the use of military ships is making a strong comeback to the forefront. When Trenta told Italian daily Corriere della Sera that "now military ships will be used against traffickers", Salvini replied, "It's about time; better late than never." However, their use will be regulated by precise rules of engagement, Salvini said, because "Italian military ships don't provide a taxi service by request of the NGOs."
Despite the fact that landings by sea overall have significantly decreased, the so-called "mini-landings" on the island of Lampedusa are continuing. In addition, the NGO ship Alex remains in the island's port, after being seized for a second violation of the second security decree. Mediterranea, the NGO running the ship, on Twitter cited an "accidental entrance of the Alex in territorial waters that allegedly took place Friday morning" but called it a "completely illegitimate pretext."
"If they think they can stop us, they're deluding themselves. We're already preparing appeals and we will be back at sea soon," the NGO said.