21:35 GMT26 January 2020
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    The Italian Interior Minister met with his Libyan counterpart in Tripoli on Monday to discuss the "immigration emergency" facing Europe.

    Before setting off for his visit, Matteo Salvini demanded that foreign charities stop rescuing migrants off the North African coast and bringing them to Italy.

    "Let the Libyan authorities do their work of rescue, recovery and return [of migrants] to their country, as they have been doing for some time, without the ships of the voracious NGOs disturbing them or causing trouble," he told journalists.

    "Italian ports are and will be closed to those who aid human traffickers," he added.

    After touching down in Libya, Salvini met with Libyan Interior Minister Abdulasalam Ashour, and tweeted his commitment to "reinforce the friendship and cooperation between our two countries on all fronts, starting with the immigration emergency."

    Salvini became the first member of Italy's new government to visit Libya, the war-torn nation which collapsed into multiple warring factions in 2011 following a NATO intervention to topple Muammar Gaddafi.

    Libyan Deputy PM Ahmed Maiteeq told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica Monday that Tripoli sees cooperation with Italy on the trafficking issue as "crucial." 

    "Traffickers who bring migrants to Italy are dangerous criminal groups for us, who prevent Libya from taking a step toward a difficult normalization. All of Europe must think of structural measures to take in African countries to stop migrants," he said, according to AFP.

    EU's Struggle to Deal With Migrant Inflow

    Tensions between Rome and other European countries have grown amid Italy's hardline policy on immigration, given Italy's proposals for much stricter migration control in the Mediterranean Sea. The showdown gained momentum earlier this month after Italy refused to grant passage to the Aquarius rescue ship, which was carrying close to 630 migrants. The ship was eventually accepted by Spain instead.

    16 EU countries held an informal mini-summit on immigration issues in Brussels on Sunday. French President Emmanuel Macron acknowledged that the bloc was facing a "political crisis" over the issue, and required "clear ideas" to resolve it. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte voiced Rome's intention to propose a completely new 10-point plan at a second, expanded summit to be held later this week. The Italian plan calls for "international protection centers" to screen asylum requests," and proposes increased EU support for the Libyan coast guard.

    On Saturday, Matteo Salvini recalled that in the past four years, Italy has faced 650,000 arrivals by sea and 430,000 asylum requests, adding that the country hosts some 170,000 "alleged refugees" at an annual cost of 5 billion euros. Salvini also accused Macron of being "arrogant" for the latter's suggestion that Europe was facing a political crisis, not an immigration one. Salvini invited Macron to "stop insulting" Italy and to "instead show some concrete generosity by opening up France's many ports" to the migrants.


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    migrants, refugees, Matteo Salvini, Italy, Libya
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