Only days after the long-awaited government was formed, the leader of the League party travelled to Sicily, where he confirmed that he intends to initiate a massive crackdown on migrants, declaring that “the free ride is over.”
“As the minister of interior, I will collaborate with the European and African states to do everything I can to avoid more deaths [in the Mediterranean], avoid that thousands of desperate people deceive themselves that, here in Sicily, there are houses and jobs for everyone,” Salvini said during his visit to one of the migrant “hot spots” in Sicily.
According to a poll conducted by Quorum in 2017, 68 percent of Italian voters have a negative view of immigration.
Many people applauded when Salvini said that “Italy and Sicily cannot be Europe's refugee camp” anymore, and that Italy needed to create deportation centers.
Not everyone is in favor of Salvini’s tough migration policies, however. There were those who heard dangerous notes in his speeches in Sicily, with protesters shouting “Salvini, go home!”“Shame on you!” and bluntly calling him “racist.”
Salvini’s anti-immigrant initiative has also been dismissed as unrealistic by critics like journalist Oscar Giannino, who on his radio program ‘La Versione di Oscar’ raised doubts about whether the new interior minister had properly evaluated all the difficulties involved in repatriating over 500,000 people.
However, during his visit to Sicily, Salvini emphasized that his was not a “hard line against migrants,” but simply “a line of commonsense.” With “€5 billion spent to keep migrants in hotels,” it would be better to reallocate this money and send them back home to their countries of origin and invest in their future, he said. This was especially so because not all of them were asylum seekers, as they declared themselves to be, he said.
“They are not asylum seekers, because someone arriving from Tunisia isn’t escaping any war,” the minister said.
Widely criticized by the European community for his anti-migrant rhetoric, the League’s leader insisted that he wanted to safeguard the interests of common Italians.
“They either help us to safeguard our boundaries, save lives, and ensure the security of our country or we will have to take a different path,” the minister said, responding to the criticism.
In light of the forthcoming meeting of EU interior ministers in Luxembourg to discuss the EU’s “Dublin” rule, Salvini emphasized that the problem of immigration could not be solely an Italian problem anymore. The Dublin rule, under which migrants have to file for asylum in the first EU state in which they arrive, had serious repercussions for Italy, which remains the favorite spot for migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea in smugglers' boats. It was forced to receive over 700,000 refugees since 2013.
Most refugees, who had initially intended to move to countries in northern Europe, never made it there because of stricter border controls in France, Austria and Switzerland.