Leave migrants on boats, says Italy’s far-Right party leader


Matteo Salvini demonstrates with far-right activists against immigration Photo: AFP/Getty

The leader of Italy’s Right-wing party has said that immigrants making the treacherous journey across the sea from Libya should be left on board their boats.

Matteo Salvini, the head of the Northern League, posted the comment on Twitter just hours after the Italian coastguard launched a huge operation to rescue more than 2,000 migrants in difficulty between the Italian island of Lampedusa and the Libyan coast.

Migrants arrive by boat at the Sicilian harbour of Pozzallo on Sunday (Reuters)

He said: “12 boats filled with immigrants south of Lampedusa. Help them, but don’t let them get off: we have enough of them!”

He also posted on Facebook: “12 boats filled with immigrants (all peaceful?) were spotted south of Lampedusa. If I had my way, I would help them, care for them and give them food and drink.

“But I would keep them away and would not let them get off, we have enough of them. Do you agree?” Some 2,164 migrants coming from Libya had to be saved from a dozen boats on Sunday.

The Italian transport ministry said the coastguard had been threatened by four armed men earlier in the day who approached them by speedboat from the Libyan coast.

The men, wielding Kalashnikovs, forced the rescuers to return a boat that had been emptied of migrants.

Mr Salvini’s comments provoked outrage on social media while Andrea Cozzolino, the deputy of the ruling Democratic Party, described Mr Salvini’s words as “irresponsible”.

Italian coastguards, helped by other vessels, moved in to rescue at least 1,000 migrants in difficulty

One woman, Mariella Siviglia, wrote on Twitter: “Doesn’t Matteo Salvini realise? We are at war and he insists on saying these things about people who are trying to flee from that war.”

Another user, Zu Palidda, posted: “Salvini is not human. Nor can we expect humanity from him or those who support him.”

Fabbio Nacio wrote: “How do you help castaways who are hungry, thirsty and dying? It’s obvious: leave them to drown in the sea! #Delirious”

The head of the populist party later reiterated his statement at a trade fair in Milan. He said: “No one should be allowed to disembark.”

Mr Salvini is seen as a rising political force in Italy and his party, which seeks an exit from the EU, has experienced a recent surge in popularity amid continuing recession in the country.