No Refugee ‘Invasion,’ Italy’s New Interior Minister Says

Migrants on a dinghy boat wait to be assisted by the Ocean Viking ship, operated by the NGOs Sos Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders, in the Mediterranean Sea on Aug. 12, 2019. (Hannah Wallace Bowman/MSF/SOS Mediterranee via AP)

(AFP) – Italy’s new Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese said in an interview published Friday that there was no migrant “invasion,” countering statements by her hardline anti-immigration predecessor Matteo Salvini.

Lamorgese told the Repubblica newspaper that this year 9,600 migrants and asylum-seekers had arrived in Italy, compared with 22,000 in 2018.

Her comments were followed later Friday by an Interior Ministry announcement that of 88 migrants rescued by the German charity Sea-Eye’s Alan Kurdi ship on Oct. 26, “Germany and France will welcome 60, Portugal 5 and Ireland two.”

They would be allowed to disembark in the port of Taranto in Puglia in southern Italy, the ministry added.

Repubblica questioned Lamorgese – a 66-year-old former civil servant who has no political affiliation – after Salvini spoke of a “tripling” of migrant landings in Italy and called for the “invasion” to stop.

“I do not have such information. We are not facing any invasion,” said Lamorgese, who took up her role in September after the formation of the new coalition government between the Five Star Movement (M5S) and the center-left Democratic Party (PD).

She said the only increase in arrivals occurred in September.

Lamorgese also dismissed Salvini’s comments that Rome would authorize the return to Italy of migrants in Germany on chartered flights.

“Nothing has been decided,” she said.

Under the EU’s Dublin Regulation – which states that migrants should be sent back to the country they first arrived in if their asylum request is denied – the former government between Salvini’s far-right League and M5S, had agreed that more than 2,300 migrants be repatriated to Italy.

She said for this year, 1,351 “Dubliners” would be sent back to Italy.

Lamorgese highlighted the arrival in Sicily this week of about 100 migrants rescued in the Mediterranean after France and Germany agreed to host many of them.

France, Germany, Italy and Malta reached a deal in September to try to avoid ships carrying migrants being held up for weeks while countries decided their fate on a case-by-case basis.

On the controversial 2017 agreement between Italy and Libya to block migrants leaving the coast of the North African country, Lamorgese said the deal could be improved.

She said Rome’s plan was to “further support assisted voluntary repatriations” led by the U.N. refugee agency and the International Office for Migration.

The process has allowed 25,000 migrants to return to their countries, Lamorgese said, adding that it was necessary to “empty” Libya’s detention centers, which have been criticized for abuses.

She said Italy has also sped up the repatriation process for migrants who are not entitled to asylum.

© Agence France-Presse

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