Germany charity Mission Lifeline, whose vessel carrying 239 African migrants, which was reportedly rescued in the Mediterranean and denied entry to Italy, has clashed with the country’s prime minister, Matteo Salvini, on social media. The Italian top official, representing the eurosceptic League party, blasted the organization on Facebook, naming the Lifeline, which is now in Maltese waters, “an outlaw ship” and promising to “cut off the business of human traffickers and mobsters." The group fired back on social media.
Dear @matteosalvinimi, we have no meat on board, but humans. We cordially invite you to convince yourself that it is people we have saved from drowning. Come here, you are welcome! pic.twitter.com/vPhLV4M2jO— MISSION LIFELINE (@SEENOTRETTUNG) 24 июня 2018 г.
The Lifeline, a 32-meter-long rescue ship with migrants on board, had requested entry into an Italian port after it plucked hundreds of EU-bound refugees from two rubber boats off the coast of Libya.
Even though Italian Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, leader of the anti-immigrant League party, warned that the migrants "will only see Italy on a postcard," Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli said that the Lifeline would be escorted “to an Italian port to conduct a probe" and that the migrants would be transferred onto Italian coast guard boats. Despite the fact that the Lifeline was flying a Dutch flag, the Netherlands has denied responsibility for the boat, which it says is not registered in the country.
Apart from the Lifeline, the ships of two NGOs under Spanish and Gibraltarian flags are cruising the Mediterranean on rescue missions, while three charity vessels under foreign flags are docked in Maltese ports, according to Salvini.
This has increased tensions between Italy, which is pursuing a hard-line policy on immigration, and other European countries over stricter migration control of the migrant influx across the Mediterranean. The recent showdown gained momentum after Italy refused to grant access to the Acquarius rescue vessel carrying almost 630 migrants, allegedly rescued by the German branch of the SOS Mediterranean NGO. The ship was eventually accepted in Spain, supported by France.
Amid the row, a non-governmental organization called Salvini a “fascist,” although the tweet was later deleted, and the organization stated that “Salvini is not a fascist of course.” The Italian move was also harshly criticized by France and other EU states, slamming Rome for being irresponsible.
An emergency "mini-summit" is being held in Brussels on June 24 to discuss the immigration issue ahead of an EU summit scheduled later this month.
According to the UN, over 1,000 migrants have died in the Mediterranean this year, with at least 220 drowning off the Libyan coast within the past two days.