Italian mayors rebel against Salvini's laws cracking down on asylum seekers

'Not an act of civil disobedience or conscientious objection, but simple application of constitutional rights guaranteed to all those who live in our country'

Chiara Giordano
Friday 04 January 2019 13:59
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Matteo Salvini, League party leader and interior minister, will focus more and more on migration
Matteo Salvini, League party leader and interior minister, will focus more and more on migration

A group of Italian mayors are rebelling against interior minister Matteo Salvini by ignoring his new tough laws on asylum seekers.

The mayors of Naples, Palermo, Florence and Parma are refusing to implement the country’s controversial security law, which they say reduces the rights of refugees and migrants.

The "Salvini decree", passed in November by the far-right government, removes humanitarian protection status – one of the three forms of asylum offered by Italy – which means thousands of people would no longer be entitled to state shelter.

Leoluca Orlando, centre-left mayor of the Sicilian capital Palermo, said it was “not an act of civil disobedience or conscientious objection, but the simple application of the constitutional rights that are guaranteed to all those who live in our country”.

Luigi de Magistris, the mayor of Naples, said the city would continue to grant residency to asylum seekers, while mayor of Florence Dario Nardella said the security law made a mockery of humanitarian rights.

Mr Salvini, who is also Italy's deputy prime minister and leader of The League, threatened the mayors with legal action.

“Anyone who helps clandestine migrants hates Italians,” he tweeted. “They will answer for their actions before the law and the history books. I will not back down.”

He added:"Italy's ports are closed. We have taken in too many fake refugees. We have enriched too many people-smugglers.

“Left-wing mayors should think of the difficulties of their own citizens and not clandestine migrants.”

Migrants rest on the migrant search and rescue ship Sea-Watch 3, operated by German NGO Sea-Watch, off the coast of Malta in the central Mediterranean Sea 3 January, 2019. (Reuters/Darrin Zammit Lupi)

Naples mayor Luigi de Magistris also defied the interior minister by saying he would allow a ship carrying 32 migrants to enter the city.

Both Italy and Malta are refusing to allow Sea-Watch 3, a vessel operated by a German non-governmental organisation (NGO), to dock and set down the migrants who were rescued off Libya on 22 December.

Both countries say they have taken in too many migrants and accuse NGO rescue ships of acting as a taxi service for would-be refugees.

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Mr de Magistris said the interior minister was playing politics with peoples’ lives.

“To leave people and children in the middle of cold and stormy seas is a crime – not simply indecent, immoral and appalling,” he told Italian station Radio CRC.

“I hope that this boat approaches the port of Naples because, unlike what the government says, we will launch a rescue operation and we will let it enter the port. I will be the first to lead the rescue.”

The comments came after Italy’s president Sergio Mattarella used his New Year’s Eve address to call for an end to “rancour” and “insults” in politics, and to wish migrants well.

On taking office last year, Mr Salvini barred NGO boats and moved to help Libya prevent people leaving its shores.

Some 12,977 migrants entered Italy in 2018 via boats from Libya, down 87.9 per cent on 2017 and 92.85 per cent on 2016, according to government data.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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