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23 Aug, 2018 22:38

‘I’m not unknown, go ahead & try me’: Matteo Salvini taunts prosecutor amid migrant ship row

‘I’m not unknown, go ahead & try me’: Matteo Salvini taunts prosecutor amid migrant ship row

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has dared prosecutors to “go ahead and try” him, as they launch an investigation into a ship of migrants that Salvini’s government refuses to allow to disembark in Italy.

The Ubaldo Diciotti –an Italian coast guard ship– has been docked in Catania, Sicily, for several days, after it picked up 190, mostly male, African migrants in the Mediterranean sea almost a week ago. Salvini’s government has refused to allow the ship to land, and has said that the migrants should be processed in Malta, whose waters they were found in.

A prosecutor from the Sicilian city of Agrigento visited the boat on Wednesday and said the situation on board is “critical,” with many of the migrants requiring medical attention. As a result, the prosecutor’s office has opened an investigation into illegal detention against “unknowns,” one of whom is certainly Salvini.

Salvini, a man dubbed “the Sheriff” by the Italian press, is defiant.

“I heard that the prosecutor’s office in Agrigento has opened an investigation,” he told viewers in a Facebook live video on Wednesday. “I also heard that the suspects are ‘unknown’ at the moment. But I’m not unknown. My name is Matteo Salvini, I’m the minister of the interior. Come on, try me too, I’m here.”

Claiming that he has been “mandated to defend Italy’s borders,” the hardliner boasted of 32,000 people already being denied entry since he took up his ministerial post, and pledged to make 2018 a year of asylum rejections.

The League leader, who in March formed a coalition government with the Five Star Movement’s Luigi di Maio, claimed he has support from an “exceedingly great majority of nationals and also of regulated migrants” to execute policies stopping the influx of migrants.

“They tell me ‘Salvini close, control, we need rules, respect, order, security and a clean-up. This is what I do. This is what I am paid to do,” he said. “You want to investigate me? Investigate me. You want to prosecute me? Prosecute me.”

Salvini has said that the migrants on board will not be allowed to disembark unless Brussels assures him that they will be settled elsewhere. Due to its Mediterranean location, Italy has borne the brunt of the European migrant crisis, and Salvini has vowed to keep ports closed to new arrivals.

“NGO rescue ships will only see Italy on postcards,” he declared in a radio interview late June. With more than 640,000 migrants crossing the Mediterranean to reach Italian ports since 2014, Italy has become the primary destination for migrants and NGO rescue ships. Salvini and di Maio have repeatedly accused these NGO ships of aiding human trafficking.

The migrant crisis has been a source of bitter conflict between European countries since it started three years ago.

After repeated efforts to hammer out a deal that would appease each country’s demands, Brussels managed to come to an agreement in June after 10 hours of deliberations. It mainly entails European countries setting up control centres for a rapid processing of asylum applications.

These, however, would be propped up on an entirely voluntary basis, meaning countries are able to refrain from taking in their quota of migrants if they wish, something which will likely do little to redress the imbalance across the bloc. Italy has criticized the plan, saying its implementation remains unclear.

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