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Matteo Salvini Faces New Charges for Denying Port Access to Migrants

Migrant rescuees await permission for port entry aboard the vessel Open Arms, August 2019 (Open Arms)
Migrant rescuees await permission for port entry aboard the vessel Open Arms, August 2019 (Open Arms)

By The Maritime Executive 07-30-2020 08:48:56

Italy's senate has lifted former Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini's parliamentary immunity in order to allow prosecutors to move forward with another set of charges related to his migration policies.

Over the course of his yearlong tenure as interior minister, Salvini worked to deter maritime migration and minimize migrant landings, denying port access for NGO-operated rescue vessels, foreign military vessels, commercial cargo ships and even his own ministry's coast guard cutters if they were bearing migrant rescuees. In this particular case, Salvini denied permission for the rescue vessel Open Arms to enter port on the island of Lampedusa. The vessel had more than 100 migrants on board, and she waited at sea for 19 days. Sicilian prosecutors have charged Salvini with abuse of office and illegal detention in connection with the case; if convicted, he could face a sentence of up to 15 years' imprisonment and a ban on holding an elected office. 

"Defending Italy is not a crime. I am proud of it, I would do it again, and I will do it again," Salvini said Wednesday, defending his actions. He told his senate colleagues that his anti-migration policies "saved tens of thousands of lives" over the course of his 14-month term in office.

On three occasions, prosecutors have attempted to bring charges against Salvini for holding maritime migrants or denying them access to port. This is the second in which the senate has lifted his immunity so that the charges may proceed. 

In February, the senate allowed prosecutors to move forward with kidnapping charges in a case involving the Italian coast guard cutter Gregoretti. In that incident, more than 100 migrants remained aboard the cutter for nearly a week before Salvini allowed them to disembark. 

The first hearing in the Gregoretti case is scheduled for October 3.