Italian Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, the head of the right-wing Lega party and a persistent advocate of stricter migration policy, stressed that "before accepting a single immigrant in Italy, we want Europe to protect its external borders. When that becomes a reality, we can discuss all the rest."
The Italian official made the statement after meeting his German counterpart Horst Seehofer, who is also known for his strong stance on refugee policy, ahead of the pan-European informal gathering of interior ministers to discuss joint migration policy.
The Italian politician pointed out that both he and Seehofer shared a "common objective: fewer landings, fewer deaths, fewer migrants in Italy as well as in Germany," while the German official emphasized "The spirit today [meeting Salvinini's] was very solution-oriented." Seehofer admitted that the topic of rescuing migrants at sea, which Rome has to deal with and calls on the EU to pay attention to, is also a "legitimate concern of Italy."
Germany’s Interior Minister has shared his optimism about reaching an agreement with Italy over sending refugees back to the country they are registered in by the end of July or the beginning of August. He stated that ministries should now "very quickly" start negotiations and expressed confidence that an agreement could be reached. "But between a good start and a real solution at the end, there are usually still difficult discussions."
European interior ministers are set to discuss a number of issues related to migration policy during an informal meeting in Austria, scheduled for July 12.
Salvini, who is loyal to his vow to crack down on illegal migration and block its main route from Africa to Europe across the Mediterranean, promised to ask European partners to block the arrival of NGO ships currently on international missions in the Mediterranean from Italian ports. The minister also voiced his wish to push EU's border control force, Frontex, to block NGO ships loaded with migrants from docking at Italian ports. Salvini repeatedly lambasted them as human traffickers and smugglers, while Italy has already denied entry to several charity ships.
His German counterpart Horst Seehofer, in turn, wants other European nations to accept the proposal to take back migrants who head to Germany from other countries where they are registered, in accordance with his 'Migration masterplan'. The move has already caused a major row within the ruling CDU/CSU coalition in Germany, and is strongly opposed by Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Italy remains one of the gateways to Europe for immigrants from Africa, who are smuggled in inflatable boats and flimsy vessels, which often suffer shipwrecks in which many people die. Over 650,000 migrants, mostly from Africa and the Middle East, have come to Italy's shores since 2014, and many of them move on to other countries. Meanwhile, Germany carries the burden of being the chief recipient of immigrants in Europe, with over a million refugees from Africa and the Middle East, who entered the country since the migration crisis broke out in 2015 and Berlin announced its “open borders” policy.