Via The Guardian: Palermo defies populist coalition to offer safe port to migrant ship. Excerpt:
In defiance of orders from the new Italian populist government that ports were closed to migrants from Libya, Leoluca Orlando, the mayor of Palermo, said he would allow a rescue boat with 629 on board to dock in the Sicilian capital.
In the first evidence of the new government’s hardline approach, the interior minister and leader of the far right League, Matteo Salvini, said on Sunday that all Italian ports were closed to the rescue boat, Aquarius.
The Maltese government rejected a request to take the boat, saying international law required that the migrants should be taken to Italian ports.
Writing on his Facebook page, Salvini foreshadowed a wider EU dispute about responsibility for migrants from Africa saying: “Malta takes in nobody. France pushes people back at the border, Spain defends its frontier with weapons. From today, Italy will also start to say no to human trafficking, no to the business of illegal immigration.”
However, in defiance of Salvini’s orders, Orlando said he was ready to open Palermo’s seaport to allow the rescued migrants to safely disembark.
Orlando said: “Palermo in ancient Greek meant ‘complete port’. We have always welcomed rescue boats and vessels who saved lives at sea. We will not stop now. Salvini is violating the international law. He has once again shown that we are under an extreme far-right government.’’
The decision was backed by other mayors in Italy’s south, including those in Naples, Messina and Reggio Calabria, who all said they were ready to disobey Salvini’s order and allow Aquarius to dock and disembark in their seaports.
More than 600,000 migrants have reached Italy by boat from Africa in the past five years, and it is estimated as many as 500,000 are still in Italy. The arrivals were one cause of the electoral success of Salvini’s League, even though the previous government had overseen a big drop in the numbers coming from Libya over the past 12 months.
Salvini said: “My aim is to guarantee a peaceful life for these youths in Africa and for our children in Italy,” adding the slogan: “We will shut the ports.”
The humanitarian group SOS Méditerranée said on Twitter on Sunday that its rescue boat Aquarius had taken on board 629 migrants, including 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 other children and seven pregnant women.
The charity said the group of mainly sub-Saharan Africans were picked up in six different rescue operations off the coast of Libya and included hundreds who were plucked from the sea by Italian naval units and then transferred to the Aquarius.