The 27 unaccompanied minors aboard a Spanish humanitarian ship will be allowed to disembark in Italy following a bitter political standoff between Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini.
Salvini, who’d banned the Open Arms and its more than 130 rescued migrants from docking in Italy, wrote Saturday he would allow the minors to disembark as “another example of loyal collaboration” with Conte but insisted the decision was “exclusively” the Prime Minister’s responsibility.
The officials’ dispute marks the latest flare-up of the yearslong refugee crisis that has exposed political fault lines across European nations.
An Italian court ruled Wednesday that the Open Arms, waiting off the Italian island of Lampedusa, should be permitted to dock in Italy despite the ban by Salvini, who rose to power on anti-migrant sentiment.
The interior minister – who also serves as deputy prime minister – responded on Wednesday by vowing, in a statement, to “continue to deny the landing to those who claim to bring illegal immigrants always and only in Italy.”
Conte in an open letter Friday demanded that Salvini “urgently adopt the necessary measures to ensure assistance and protection for minors present in the boat.
“I understand your faithful and obsessive concentration in tackling the issue of immigration by reducing it to the formula ‘closed ports,’” Conte wrote. “You are a political leader and you are legitimately striving to constantly increase your support. But … changing a clear position of your Prime Minister … is a clear example of disloyal collaboration, yet another to tell the truth, which I cannot accept.”
Migrants could put ‘onerous duty’ on Italy, Salvini says
Salvini, in his three-page response on Saturday, expressed “my regret and concern that your decision could impose an irreversible and onerous duty on our country to provide assistance to subjects who could, subsequently, be revealed not to be due (said assistance).”
At sea for more than two weeks, the Open Arms had appealed for an alternate dock in the face of Salvini’s ban on migrant rescue vessels. France, Germany, Romania, Portugal, Spain and Luxembourg had all offered to help.
The Spanish charity that operates the Open Arms confirmed it has been allowed to dock at the Lampedusa port. The 27 minors “will be evacuated by Lampedusa Coast Guard,” the group tweeted Saturday.
The conflict over the Open Arms has intensified the divide between Salvini’s far-right League and Conte’s Five Star Movement, which together comprise Italy’s coalition government. The government in July passed a decree, promoted by Salvini, under which captains of migrant rescue ships that dock without authorization could face fines of up to $57,000.
After the court ruling allowing the Open Arms to dock, Salvini vented his anger on Facebook, writing, “Think about what a strange country we live in where a lawyer of the Administrative Court of Lazio wants to allow a foreign ship full of foreign immigrants? And I will once again in the following hours sign my no because I will never be an accomplice of traffickers.”