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Focus on ‘emergency in Venezuela’: Italy hits back at UN for criticism of migrant proposals

Focus on ‘emergency in Venezuela’: Italy hits back at UN for criticism of migrant proposals
Italy’s Interior Ministry has hit out at the UN’s criticism of its anti-migrant proposals, suggesting the body focuses on solving the emergency in Venezuela instead of “electoral campaigning in Italy.”

Ministry officials made the barbed remark on Sunday, after a letter by the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights urged a reversal of the measures that block entry to Italian ports for any NGO vessels attempting to dock with migrants. It will also allow the ministry to prevent any ships deemed to be a security concern from entering Italy’s territorial waters, and give powers to issue fines of up to $6,145 for each migrant transported.

“The hope is that the authoritative UN dedicates its energies to the humanitarian emergency in Venezuela rather than engage in electoral campaigning in Italy,” the officials said. They added that the proposed measures were “necessary and urgent” to Italy’s security and would be likely approved during a Cabinet meeting on Monday.

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The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights voiced its concern with the proposed measures in a letter dated May 15 and released on Saturday. In it, the body said Italy’s proposals equated to another “political attempt to criminalize” search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean and fostered a “climate of hostility and xenophobia” towards migrants. It warned that by preventing such vessels from porting in Italy, it violated human rights for migrants enshrined in conventions Rome has signed up to.

However, the ministry said that fines were already present in Italy’s legal code and was merely being updated. Rome has long accused the European Union of turning the country into a “refugee camp” with other countries failing to take on the migrants, leaving Italy with the burden.

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Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini is pushing for greater border security as EU member states prepare to go to the polls on Thursday in tightly-contested European Parliament elections, where right-wing and anti-immigration parties are looking to make strong gains. To this end, Salvini has joined forces with France’s Le Pen to form the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) group. The bloc includes Austria's Freedom Party, Belgium's Vlaams Belang and Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom from the Netherlands.

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