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Salvini meets rescued migrants, promises 'welcome' in Italy

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Salvini meets rescued migrants, promises 'welcome' in Italy
Salvini with migrants at the military airport in Rome today. Photo: Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP
17:37 CET+01:00
Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini met dozens of African migrants, recently evacuated from Libya by the UN, and sought to reassure them that Italy is "a welcoming, generous and supportive country."

Salvini, who has been at the forefront of the country's hardline approach to immigration, met the group of 51 migrants, mostly families or women with children, on the tarmac at a military airport near Rome.

"For women and children in difficulty, the only way to arrive is by plane, not by inflatable dinghy, because the dinghies are operated by criminals who in exchange for trafficking in human beings, buy weapons," he said.

"This is a demonstration that Italy is a welcoming, generous and supportive country, where I have been entrusted with the duty of bringing back some rules and order." 

Almost all those in the group of 32 adults and 19 children came from Horn of Africa nations Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia, as well as Sudan. 

They were among more than 2,300 vulnerable people who have been evacuated from Libya via Niger by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, since December.

They will be placed with host families in Italy by a Catholic association.

READ ALSO: Immigration to Italy: a look at the numbers

Salvini, the head of the hard-right League, which is in a coalition government with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), has vowed to stop migrant arrivals and Rome has moved to close its ports to rescue boats.

He supports a deal between Italy and Libya, forged under the previous, centre-left government, under which the Libyan coast guard intercepts migrants and returns them to the conflict-torn country.

In return, Italy is developing initiatives to legally accept vulnerable people stranded in Libya, where thousands of migrants face arbitrary detention, extortion and violence.  

Last month the UN Refugee Agency and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) warned the "political discourse concerning refugees and migrants, particularly those arriving by boat, has become dangerously toxic", 
adding that while boat arrivals had fallen, deaths at sea had risen.

Yesterday Italian police bulldozed a makeshift camp in Rome, where about a hundred migrants had been living after leaving Italy's reception system, voluntarily or otherwise.

Dozens of documented migrants with humanitarian protection had ended up in the camp after being turned out of reception centres following the passing of Salvini's new 'anti-migrant' security decree, under which they are no longer protected.

After the decree was passed, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Rome to "say no to Salvini and no to racism", describing the decree as "draconian."

Salvini also staged a Q&A session with Italian children as part of a TV show yesterday in which one child asked him: "are you a racist?"

He replied: "Nah."

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