BILLIONAIRE philanthropist and financier George Soros has called for the EU to compensate Italy for migrants landing there, as the country’s hardline new interior minister made his first official trip a provocative one, to one of their main arrival points.
Matteo Salvini, the far-right leader of the League, travelled to the sea port of Pozzallo in Sicily on Sunday, with a blunt warning that migrants “should get ready to pack their bags”.
“Enough of Sicily being the refugee camp of Europe. I will not stand by and do nothing while there are landings after landings,” he later told a crowd in Catania. “We need deportation centres.”
His visit came as at least 35 people were reported drowned off the southern coast of Tunisia, which has become a major departure point for migrants seeking to reach Italy. The Tunisian defence ministry said 67 others were rescued by the coastguard, and the search continued. Around 180 people were believed to be on board.
As interior minister of Italy’s new populist government, sworn in on Friday, made up of ministers from the League and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), Salvini has pledged to .
His plans have prompted alarm among migration experts and humanitarian groups, although they are also seen as highly unrealistic as Italy does not have resources to pursue mass deportations.
“I’m going to Sicily to see where the latest landing took place,” Salvini told reporters at the presidential palace in Rome ahead of the visit. “The good times for illegal migrants are over.”
The interior minister also described NGO rescue boats as “smugglers’ deputies” for their role in bringing migrants to safety.
Riccardo Gatti, head of the Open Arms rescue mission, predicted its work would become more difficult. “Salvini will not simply make worse the future of the people who save lives at sea, but the life conditions of the migrants,” he said. “Since I’ve started working at sea, dealing with rescue operations, I have seen how our work is becoming harder and harder.
“What scares me is not only Salvini. Let’s not forget about [Luigi] Di Maio and the M5S who called us NGOs ‘taxis of the sea’. They will try to stop us, I know.”
Writing in Italy’s newspaper, Soros said that the strong showing of the League, Italy’s largest rightwing party, could partly be attributed to “Europe’s flawed migration policies that imposed an unfair burden on Italy”.
He said that if the EU wanted to “constructively influence” the next elections, which he believes may be sooner rather than later due to the “uneasy” alliance between the coalition partners, it must address that burden.
“Until recently, most refugees could move on to northern Europe, where they wanted to go,” he wrote. “But since September 2015, both France and Austria closed their borders and the rescued migrants were stuck in Italy. This situation was not only unfair but also financially very burdensome at a time when Italy was economically lagging behind most other European countries. That was the main reason why Lega Nord, in particular, did so well in the recent elections.
“It follows from the voluntary principle that the problem ... cannot be addressed by forced resettlement, but only by the EU financially compensating Italy for the migrants that land there.”