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Italy’s Salvini is campaigning with migrants in Lampedusa

#Italys #Salvini #campaigning #migrants #Lampedusa

Hundreds of migrants were ferried across from the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa on Thursday ahead of a visit by anti-immigrant leader Matteo Salvini, who is campaigning for September’s elections and is promising to stop new arrivals.

Scores of overcrowded boats have arrived in recent days on Lampedusa, whose location off the Tunisian coast has made it a first port of call for tens of thousands of migrants who cross the Mediterranean each year hoping to reach Europe.

Salvini, who leads the Italian Lega party, has made stopping arrivals the cornerstone of his platform ahead of September 25 general elections, in which he is expected to come to power as part of a right-wing coalition.

“Italy cannot take in tens of thousands of immigrants who will only bring problems,” he said before his two-day visit, adding: “Italy is not Europe’s refugee camp.”

As is often the case during the summer months, when calmer seas trigger a spike in arrivals, the island’s facilities are overwhelmed. More than 1,500 people are said to be staying in a reception center designed for 350.

The outgoing government of Prime Minister Mario Draghi last week announced a special ferry to take migrants to Sicily three times a week to ease overcrowding.

But Salvini accused the government – which he helped overthrow by withdrawing his support last month – for trying to hide the issue before he arrives.

AFP journalists saw around 200 people board a ferry bound for Sicily on Thursday while a police officer said the reception center was being cleaned.

“Two days ago it was dirty. And if you come back in two days, it will be dirty again,” he said.

– trial for kidnapping –

When he was interior minister in 2019, Salvini blocked several aid ships carrying migrants from landing in Italy as part of his party’s “closed ports” policy.

The move resulted in him being charged with kidnapping and abuse of office in Sicily, in an ongoing trial he has worn as a badge of honour.

Polls suggest that immigration is less of a concern for Italians than rampant inflation, which is weighing on already stagnant wages.

But Salvini is trying to boost the league’s support, which sits at about 13 percent – well behind the 23 percent of Italy’s post-fascist Giorgia Melonis brothers.

The two parties are on track to enter government alongside Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, but their share of the vote will determine who wields the most power.

While Salvini’s visit to the reception center may have sparked action, many Lampedusa locals seemed unmoved.

“Many politicians have come to Lampedusa. Most of them make promises,” said Salvatore Maggiore, a 47-year-old florist and former fisherman.

But he said many locals feel “let down” and have expressed concerns about a lack of public services, particularly healthcare facilities.

– Despair –

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the central Mediterranean is the world’s deadliest migration route, with nearly 20,000 dead and missing since 2014.

Many of the survivors end up on the coasts of Italy. The Home Office has counted more than 42,000 migrant landings so far this year, up from nearly 30,000 in the same period in 2021.

The numbers show no sign of slowing down – rescue organizations SOS Mediterranee, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and Sea-Watch have taken in more than 1,000 people in the central Mediterranean in recent days.

In a joint statement on Wednesday, the trio said they can’t cope with the numbers and called on the European Union to help.

The EU ended its controversial anti-trafficking operation in the Mediterranean in 2020, replacing it with Operation Irini, which focuses on monitoring the UN arms embargo on Libya.

Rescuing migrants has since been left to individual states, but NGOs complain that countries are ignoring emergency calls or even working with Libyan authorities to turn migrants back.

Lampedusa Mayor Filippo Mannino said the problem was too big for his island alone.

“Some years a few more migrants arrive and others a few fewer, but the problem remains,” he told AFP.

“We demand that Europe takes on this problem. Europe and Italy.”

Social Tags:
#Italys #Salvini #campaigning #migrants #Lampedusa

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