Italy’s Deputy PM urges changes to EU border control mission

Rome,   Italy’s Deputy Premier Luigi Di Maio on Monday called for revisions to the European Union’s border control mission’s rules of engagement, which currently require rescued migrants to be delivered the nearest port.

“For as long as the EU mission lasts, the only ports are Italian ones, but our goal is to change the rules of engagement,” Di Maio, who is also Welfare and Industry Minister, told Italy’s Radio1 public radio.

Di Maio’s comments came after hardline Interior Minister Matteo Salvini on Sunday urged the closure of Italian ports to ships engaged in international missions in the Mediterranean after an Irish navy ship took 106 rescued migrants to the Sicilian port of Messina at the weekend.

“Governments in recent years got it wrong,” Di Maio said.

“The Renzi government opened Italian ports in exchange for some (budget) wriggle room but things have got to change,” he added, referring to Italy’s former centre-left Premier Matteo Renzi, who resigned in December 2016.

The populist government that took office in Italy last month has taken a tough stance on illegal immigration and Salvini has pushed back several charity ships with hundreds of rescued migrants on board, forcing the vessels to dock in Spain and Malta after standoffs with European officials that left the ships stranded at sea for days.

Salvini said on Thursday he wanted to put a complete stop to migrant arrivals in Italy by boat.

The aim is that “not one more person arrives by boat” on Italian shores, he said at a news conference with Libya’s Deputy Premier Ahmed Maitig.

Salvini earlier vowed that Italy’s ports would be closed to charity rescue boats “all summer”.