Italy called on Monday for migrant centres to be set up in Africa to stop a tide of asylum-seekers fleeing toward western Europe, as Rome raised pressure on its European Union partners to take a much tougher approach to immigration.
The new Italian government has closed its ports to charity ships operating in the Mediterranean, saying the EU must share the burden of disembarking the hundreds of migrants who are plucked from waters each month, mostly off the Libyan coast.
Italy, which lies close to Libya, has taken in 650,000 boat migrants since 2014. Its tough new approach has aggravated EU tensions over immigration policy and created concerns among investors.
“Reception and identification centres should be set up…,” Italy’s anti-immigration interior minister, Matteo Salvini, said on a visit to Libya, the departure point for most migrants trying to reach Europe by sea.
Meeting his counterpart in Libya’s internationally-recognised government Abdulsalam Ashour and Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Maiteeg, Salvini thanked the Libyan coastguard for its “excellent work” in rescuing and intercepting migrants.
However, the Tripoli-based government, which does not control the whole of Libya, is unwilling to host reception centres itself. Maiteeg said that while his government was ready to tackle migration, “we completely reject any migrant camps in Libya”.
After returning to Italy, Salvini said such centres should be set up south of Libya, in Niger, Mali, Chad and Sudan.
Earlier, he said the EU should fund efforts in Africa to stop uncontrolled migration to Europe.
As EU leaders prepare to discuss immigration policy in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, Italy’s refusal to accept charity-run rescue ships has stranded hundreds of Africans at sea, their rescuers waiting for an EU country to accept them.
Rescue ship Lifeline, with more than 230 migrants aboard, is stuck in international waters in the Mediterranean. And a private cargo ship, the Alexander Maersk, has been waiting to be assigned a port since it picked up 113 migrants off southern Italy on Friday, the ship owner said.
Earlier this month, a vessel carrying more than 600 migrants on board was stranded before it was accepted by Spain.