Italy’s new interior minister, Matteo Salvini, has delivered a speech at a migrant center in Sicily, saying “common sense” was needed to stop the country from being “Europe’s refugee camp”.
Image: Matteo Salvini
The newly sworn in Deputy Prime Minister in Italy’s populist coalition government traveled to Sicily, one of the country’s main refugee landing points, to push the anti-immigration platform that propelled him to power.
At the southern Sicilian town of Pozzallo, a migration hotspot, Salvini told a crowd of supporters that “Italy and Sicily cannot be Europe’s refugee camp”.
“Nobody will take away my certainty that illegal immigration is a business… and seeing people make money on children who go on to die makes me furious,” he added.
His comments came as more than 50 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean on Sunday, with 48 bodies found off Tunisia’s southern coast and nine Syrians – including seven children – killed when their vessel sank off the coast of Turkey.
The port town of Pozzallo is also on the migration front line as one of the main landing points for refugees fleeing war, persecution and famine across North Africa and the Middle East.
A crowd of enthusiastic supporters and a smaller group of protesters had earlier gathered in front of the gates of the town’s migrant center, where Salvini would give his speech. Both groups traded insults and punches were almost thrown.
One protester held up a sign saying “refugees welcome”, while a supporter said “we don’t want any more pests” and others simply chanted “Matteo, Matteo”.
After delivering his speech, Salvini went inside the center to meet some of the 158 people who had landed in Pozzallo when they were rescued by a humanitarian boat on Friday.
The rescue operation, which was coordinated by the Italian coast guard, happened just hours after Salvini took his oath of office, and said he would ask his ministry’s experts “how to reduce the number of arriving migrants and increase the number of expulsions”.
“The good times for illegals is over – get ready to pack your bags,” he said on Saturday.