Italy's far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini left Monday for talks in Libya on the migrant crisis, he said on Twitter. "Mission Libya, we've left!", he said, posting a selfie on board a military plane to Libya.
Italy, on the frontline of Europe's migrant crisis, has turned away rescue vessels with its new populist government demanding greater solidarity from reluctant fellow EU states.
Salvini, who will be the first member of the new government to visit Libya, on Sunday bluntly told foreign charities to stop rescuing migrants off the North African coast, where one group said 1,000 people were on boats in distress.
"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 said. "Italian ports are and will be closed to those who aid human traffickers," he said.
In an interview published Monday with the newspaper La Repubblica, Libya's deputy premier Ahmed Maiteeq said he hoped to work with the Italian government on the issue.
"The cooperation between Italy and Libya is crucial," he said, adding that the arrival of migrants was also "a major problem" for his country.
"Traffickers who bring migrants to Italy are dangerous criminal groups for us, who prevent Libya from taking a step toward a difficult normalisation. All of Europe must think of structural measures to take in African countries to stop migrants."
Hundreds of people fleeing conflict and persecution at home are caught in the midst of a worsening row over how to deal with the influx of migrants against a backdrop of mass drownings in the Mediterranean in recent years.
One boat, the Lifeline, remained in limbo on Sunday with 239 Africans aboard, including pregnant women and children. Malta and Italy refused to take it in after the Aquarius suffered a similar fate until it was allowed to dock in Spain.
On Sunday, 16 of the EU's 28 leaders held emergency talks in Brussels to find a way forward despite a longstanding deadlock over who should take in migrants and refugees who land in Italy and other European countries.
According to Salvini, the Libyan coast guard rescued 820 migrants in the Mediterranean last weekend alone.
Ringrazio di cuore, da ministro e da papà, le Autorità e la Guardia Costiera Libica che oggi hanno salvato e riportato in Libia 820 immigrati, rendendo vano il "lavoro" degli scafisti ed evitando interventi scorretti delle navi delle Ong.https://t.co/3BRHYSKoKF— Matteo Salvini (@matteosalvinimi) June 24, 2018