Italy’s hardline Interior Minister Matteo Salvini on Thursday said he wants to end migrant arrivals in Italy by boat.
The aim is that “not one more person arrives by boat” on Italian shores, said Salvini during a news conference with Ahmed Maiteeq, vice president of the Libyan UN-backed Government of National Accord.
Salvini said that as “a minister and a father” he did not want any more “women or babies to get into rubber dinghies.”
“The goal is for those who come to Italy to arrive on planes, even first class,” Salvini, leader of the far-right, anti-immigration League, said.
Italy has seen more than 640,000 migrants land on its shores since 2014.
Although the numbers have fallen off dramatically in the past year, Salvini has shunted migration to the top of the political agenda, helping propel his party into government.
Since taking up his post in early June, Salvini has pushed the divisive issue of migration to the forefront of the EU agenda by refusing to open Italy’s ports to migrant rescue ships operating in the Mediterranean.
He accuses the NGO ships of aiding human traffickers to bring migrants to Europe.
“Since we made our position known, in recent hours there has not been a single ship of these so-called humanitarian associations in Libyan waters,” Salvini said.
“Pregnant women, children and refugees will remain in Italy,” said the minister who has promised to speed up deportations of illegal immigrants.
“Protection is reserved for humanitarian cases,” he added.
Salvini said one of his priorities was to see the lifting of an arms embargo on Libya, which was introduced in 2011 as the country descended into turmoil following the downfall of its long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi.
“People smugglers and arms smugglers obviously ignore it and arm themselves as they wish, while the only ones who are blocked are the legitimate authorities,” he said.
“If we don’t block the flows from the south, it is a problem for everyone, so I hope next Thursday to awaken Europe’s conscience on the need to intervene urgently,” Salvini said, referring to a scheduled meeting of EU interior ministers.
“The situation is dangerous,” he added.
Salvini, who has been at loggerheads with EU leaders over how to handle the influx of migrants trying to reach the continent, reiterated that fellow EU member states must help Italy.
A wave of anti-migrant sentiment in the EU has seen countries such as Germany and Austria say they will tighten their border controls and propose sending back migrants to EU countries that previously registered them – often Italy.
According to the International Organisation for Migrants (IOM), 57,160 migrants have arrived in the European Union since the beginning of the year, 80 percent have landed on the Italian, Spanish or Greek coasts.