02:31 - Source: CNN
The journey of a ship carrying 600 migrants
(CNN) —  

Italy’s hard-line, anti-immigration interior minister, Matteo Salvini, on Saturday warned ships carrying migrants as part of a humanitarian mission not to try to dock in Italy, even as crowds rallied in Rome in solidarity with migrants.

Some 20,000 people from across Italy are expected to join the demonstration Saturday afternoon, Rome police said.

Salvini, the leader of Italy’s League party, was instrumental in blocking a ship carrying hundreds of rescued migrants from docking this week in his country.

That ship, the Aquarius, and two accompanying Italian ships are now expected to dock Sunday morning in Spain, the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Doctors Without Borders told CNN.

“While the Aquarius ship goes toward Spain, 2 other NGO ships with Dutch flags have arrived near the Libyan coast,” Salvini tweeted Saturday.

“We know that Italy does not want to be complicit in the business of clandestine immigration, and they will have to look for other ports to go to,” he said, without providing details about the Dutch-flagged ships.

The Aquarius is operated by Doctors Without Borders and SOS Méditerranée, another NGO.

Some of the rescued migrants aboard the Aquarius will be allowed to settle in France, Spain’s deputy prime minister said Saturday.

France made the offer via its ambassador to Spain, Deputy PM Carmen Calvo said in a statement. In a telegram, Spain’s President, Pedro Sanchez, thanked French President Emmanuel Macron for his offer.

Macron had been critical of Italy’s refusal to accept the Aquarius migrants but later worked to smooth things over later with Italy’s Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte.

Alleged killing of activist spurs protest

The rally in Rome was called by the USB labor union following the alleged murder of one of its activists, Soumayla Sacko of Mali, as he helped fellow migrant agricultural workers in Rosarno, in southern Italy’s Calabria region.

“Blood flows in the countryside of Rosarno. It is not legitimate defense but deliberate murder of a worker, one of us, a USB activist who was part of the defense and organization of laborers,” a statement, translated from Italian, on the USB Facebook page said.

“Soumayla Sacko was helping two of his brothers to put sheet and cardboard together to build a shelter. Not a house, as it should be for every agricultural worker and something that the land owners should provide, but a simple shack to rest after the many hours spent working.”

The USB called on the newly installed government – including Salvini and Five Star Movement leader Luigi Di Maio, who serves as minister for labor and the economy – to recognize the “inhumane conditions” in which agricultural and food industry laborers work, describing them as “at the edge of slavery.”

The rally, it said, “will be a cry of truth and justice for Soumayla Sacko and for all migrant and Italian workers who are exploited in our country.”

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini speaks Wednesday in the Italian Senate about the migrant ship Aquarius.
PHOTO: Ettore Ferrari/AP
Interior Minister Matteo Salvini speaks Wednesday in the Italian Senate about the migrant ship Aquarius.

Italy’s new populist government was sworn in this month, following months of political turmoil. The country had been without a government since voters went to the polls in March, the longest such period in Italy’s postwar history.

Salvini has previously promised to expel half a million illegal immigrants from Italy. He’s also shared anti-immigrant memes on social media.

The League has faced widespread criticism for xenophobic, anti-immigrant policies reminiscent of those promoted by far-right parties across Europe, such as Germany’s AfD and the National Front in France.

CNN’s Valentina DiDonato reported from Rome and Laura Smith-Spark wrote from London. CNN’s Laura Perez Maestro and Marilia Brocchetto also contributed to this report.