Southern mayors defy Italian coalition to offer safe port to migrants

Palermo mayor offers to open port to rescue vessel but may need coastguard cooperation
11 June, 2018

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Commentary by Francois Crépeau: “As often, this is an encouraging reaction on the part of local authorities, who have field experience of living with migrants as part of their community and oppose ideological decisions made by national authorities against the interests of such migrants. Ministers mostly cater to their electoral base, without much concern for the individual migrants involved: these do not vote and serve essentially as political fodder. As new populist governments are being elected in Europe, this type of debate will become increasingly acrimonious. We can imagine the Italian minister sending troops to ports to ensure that they remain closed to humanitarian rescue vessels. We need to resolutely push for a human-rights-based solution: the right to life and the principle of the best interests of the child must systematically prevail over political considerations.”

Written by Patrick Wintour, Lorenzo Tondo and Stephanie Kirchgaessner

Mayors across the south of Italy have pledged to defy a move by the new Italian government – an alliance of the far right and populists – to prevent a rescue boat with 629 people on board from docking in the Sicilian capital.

But the mayors’ defiance appears unlikely to serve any practical purpose without the direct support of the Italian coastguard.

In the first evidence of the new government’s hardline approach, the interior minister, 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.

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