Salvini thanks Libya for rescuing migrants as he lands in Tripoli for talks
Matteo Salvini, Italy’s hardline interior minister, thanked Libya’s coast guard for picking up more than 800 migrants in the Mediterranean as he flew to Tripoli for the first time to discuss the migration crisis.
The migrants were returned to Libya after Italy’s new populist government prevented humanitarian organisations from rescuing them.
“I thank from the bottom of my heart, both as a minister and as a father, the Libyan coast guard for having saved and taken back 820 migrants, rendering in vain the work of traffickers and averting the intervention of NGO ships,” Mr Salvini said.
But humanitarian groups condemned the move, saying that the migrants would be returned to horrific conditions in squalid camps run by Libyan militia and smugglers.
“It’s the biggest mass push-back in the history of the Mediterranean,” said Oscar Camps, the founder of Proactiva Open Arms, a Spanish NGO that has rescued thousands of migrants at sea.
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Mr Salvini, who has struck a stridently anti-migrant tone since taking office earlier this month, flew to Libya to cement ties with the internationally-recognised government in Tripoli.
In a tweet, he said he had proposed the setting up of migrant processing centres on Libya’s southern borders, to stop migrants from creating a “bottleneck” along the coast.
While Mr Salvini’s threats to expel half a million unauthorised migrants from Italy and to hold a census of Roma gypsies has earned accusations of intolerance and racism, they have chimed with many Italians.
His party, the hard-Right League, performed strongly in local elections on Sunday.
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The League triumphed in towns and cities across the country, snatching traditionally centre-Left bastions such as Siena and Pisa in Tuscany from the demoralised Democratic Party, which performed poorly.
The elections were a debacle for the Democratic Party, which lost strongholds that it had governed continuously since the Second World War.