Salvini furious as Italian mayors defy new immigration rules

Clashes over migration between Interior Minister Matteo Salvini and Italian mayors continue, with several city mayors now refusing to follow Salvini’s orders.

Salvini furious as Italian mayors defy new immigration rules
Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Leoluca Orlando, mayor of Palermo, has been joined by left-leaning mayors in Naples and Florence who say they will not apply some parts of the decree which they believe to be unconstitutional.

Salvini today demanded the resignations of the rebellious leaders of Florence, Palermo and Naples, with the last escalating the row by also offering to take in migrants stranded at sea that Italy has turned away.

Salvini accused Orlando of civil disobedience yesterday, after the Sicilian mayor ordered Palermo’s registry office to ignore a clause in Salvini’s controversial new security decree that would deny migrants the right to apply for full residency after two-year asylum stays.

“This (law) incites criminality, rather than fighting or preventing it,” Orlando said.


Palermo mayor Leoluca Orlando. Photo: Marcello Paternostro/AFP.

Orlando argued that the measure was not in line with Italy’s constitution, saying the decree unfairly strips migrants of access to basic healthcare and other local services.

He said excluding migrants from society in this way would lead to potential criminalisation.

“Ours is not an act of civil disobedience or conscientious objection, but the simple application of the constitutional rights that are guaranteed to all those who live in our country,” Orlando told Repubblica.

Florence mayor Dario Nardella said his city would “not bow to” a law which “expels asylum-seekers and, without repatriating them, throws them out onto the street”.

Orlando said he wanted to take the issue to a judge, hoping the Constitutional Court would examine the security decree and decide whether or not it complies with the constitution.

In a series of furious tweets and Facebook Live broadcasts today, Salvini said  “those who help the illegal migrants hate Italians, and they will answer to the law and to history.”

He insinuated that the mayors who disagreed with parts of his decree were benefiting from the migrant reception business, tweeting: “Certain mayors look back fondly on the good old times of immigration, but for them the party is over!”

Meanwhile, the mayors of Naples, Messina and Reggio Calabria have also clashed with Salvini on the issue of whether to open or close their ports to migrants arriving by sea from north Africa. 

READ ALSO:Thousands march against Italy's new anti-migrant law

Naples Mayor Luigi de Magistris said today that the city’s port would be open to Sea Watch, an NGO ship that has been stuck at sea for days, unable to dock with 32 migrants on board.

“I hope this boat comes to Naples because, despite what the government says, we will let it into the port,” he said, promising to lead a rescue effort.

Following the mayor’s statement, Salvini reiterated that Italian ports are closed to NGO migrant rescue ships

Co-deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio, leader of the Five Star Movement, dismissed the mayors’ stance as attention-seeking.

“It's just electioneering on the part of mayors who have to feel a bit leftwing by making noise,” said Di Maio, who is also labour minister.

These mayors are not the first to get on the wrong side of Salvini.

Domenico Lucano, the former mayor of the Calabrian town of Riace that built a successful economic growth model welcoming migrants, has been the target of Salvini’s verbal attacks and is currently under house arrest after being charged with aiding and abetting illegal immigration.

READ ALSO: Anger over Italian government's 'war' on model migrant town


How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.