Malta cannot continue saying no to every request to rescue people at sea, Italy’s new far-right deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini said.
Salvini who also serves as home affairs minister in the first populist government in Western Europe formed by his party and the populist Movement 5 Stelle, said “God put Malta closer to African shores than Sicily and it cannot keep saying no to every request for rescue.”
Launching an attack on NGOs who carry out rescue operations in the Mediterranean, Salvini said that not one single rescue vessel has an Italian flag but all rescued people are taken to Italy.
Since the start of this year, Italian has seen 13,500 arrivals while Malta has recorded no landings thanks to what is thought to be an agreement struck by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat with previous Italian governments led by the centre-left.
According to the UNHCR, at least 784 people have lost their lives at sea this year while trying to reach Europe.
Speaking in Como, Salvini – who heads the far-right nationalist La Lega – warned that Italy will only accept asylum seekers escaping war.
“We will be just with the 6% of people who are fleeing war and strict with the other who are not fleeing war,” he said, adding that in a meeting with fellow EU interior ministers next week he will make sure that Italy “returns to be a protagonist.”
“Things will either change immediately or we will have trouble with Europe and the world,” Salvini said.
As Italy increasingly looks like breaking ranks within the EU, this week the Green Party chairperson Carmel Cacopardo said “Salvini doesn’t care if Malta ends up bearing the brunt of his policies” as he urged the Maltese government to seek new allies.
Three weeks ago, The Shift News reported that migration experts were concerned whether Malta is prepared to deal with a sudden influx of boat arrivals.
Questions sent to the foreign affairs ministry on whether Malta is taking any precautionary measures and whether it would be seeking talks with the new Italian government on migration remain unanswered.