Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini appears on the RAI1 talk show "Porta a Porta" to speak about the standoff with the Sea Watch 3 on June 26, 2019 | Photo: ANSA
Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini appears on the RAI1 talk show "Porta a Porta" to speak about the standoff with the Sea Watch 3 on June 26, 2019 | Photo: ANSA

Embattled Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini is not a fan of private migrant rescue missions in the Mediterranean, to say the least. Since he took office in mid-2018, there have been about a dozen prominent stand-offs between Salvini and rescue ships.

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has long been openly critical of NGOs that perform migrant search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean. He has often called these organizations as "accomplices" of human traffickers, most recently during the Committee for Public Order and Safety on August 15.


Since taking office as interior minister, he has tried to prevent private rescue missions as much as possible. 

Salvini's policies have intensified measures put into place by Marco Minniti, his predecessor. Minniti had introduced a code of conduct that NGOs had to sign if they wanted to continue to operate in collaboration with Italian authorities and dock at Italian ports. 

In light of the most recent conflicts over whether the Open Arms and the Ocean Viking should be allowed to dock in Italy, here's an overview of clashes between Salvini and rescue NGOs.  

June 2018: Aquarius and Lifeline

In June 2018, just days after the new allied government of Salvini's League party and the 5-Star Movement was sworn in, Salvini prohibited two migrant rescue boats from docking in Italy. This kicked off the interior ministry's closed-port policy. 

The Aquarius ship, jointly run by SOS Mediteranee and Doctors Without Borders (MSF), had 629 rescued migrants on board. Eventually, Spain allowed the ship to dock at the port of Valencia. 

The German NGO ship Lifeline had rescued 230 migrants. After a protracted battle with the Italian authorities, including threats by ministers to seize the ship, it eventually docked in Malta in late June. 

July/August 2018: Diciotti and Open Arms

In July 2018, Salvini's closed-port policy hit Italy's own coast guard. Its ship Diciotti that had taken aboard 67 people who had been rescued by a merchant ship. The Diciotti initially remained at sea due to Salvini's ban on docking, but the situation was finally resolved when Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte intervened. 

In late July, the Open Arms – the same ship that in recent days has been waiting off the coast of Lampedusa for a port to disembark – was denied a port to dock by Malta and Italy after it rescued 87 migrants off the coast of Libya. 

On August 7, after a week at sea, the Spanish government granted the ship permission to dock and disembark the migrants at the port of Algeciras. 

Also in August, the Diciotti rescued another 177 migrants. The ship had to wait at sea off the coast of Lampedusa while Italy and Malta refused them a port to disembark. 

On August 22, after five days at sea and two in the port of Catania, Italy, 29 minors were allowed to disembark, while the rest didn't disembark until August 25. 

Following the Diciotti stand-off, Salvini was put under investigation for kidnapping. But the Italian senate eventually blocked the criminal case against the interior minister. 

December 2018: Open Arms 

In December, the Open Arms was once again forced to wait at sea, including on Christmas, with rescued migrants aboard. 

On December 28, the migrants disembarked at the port of Algeciras, Spain, after the ship was denied permission to dock by Italy, Malta, and France. 

January and June 2019: Sea-Watch 3

The standoffs continued into 2019, starting in January when the Sea-Watch 3 was denied a port. After waiting for days off the coast of Siracusa, the ship was allowed to dock at the port of Catania, Italy. 

Salvini was investigated for this case as well, together with Premier Conte, Italian Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli, and Deputy Premier Luigi Di Maio, but the prosecution eventually shelved the case. 

The Sea-Watch 3 was also at the center of a clash in June. After 17 days at sea with 40 rescued migrants aboard, the ship's captain Carola Rackete pushed past a finance police blockade and docked at the Italian port of Lampedusa. In response, Salvini called the rescue workers "pirates." 

Italian authorities arrested Rackete, but the preliminary judge in the case ruled not to confirm the arrest and Rackete was freed after 48 hours. 

Still pending: Ocean Viking and Open Arms 

In recent weeks, the ships Ocean Viking and Open Arms have been waiting in the waters of the Mediterranean for a port to disembark the rescued migrants aboard. So far, Italy has only let small groups of migrants exit these boats for medical reasons, leaving hundreds of migrants without a safe harbor. 
 

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