ROME, JAN 22 — Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio on Monday accused France of causing the ongoing migrant crisis at European Union borders by “continuing to practice colonialism” in Africa.
Di Maio, whose populist Five Star Movement rules in Italy in coalition with the rightwing League party, spoke in response to news that up to 170 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean in the past three days.
“The European Union (EU) ignores what France is doing in Africa,” Di Maio told RTL 102.5 radio in an interview. “In order for Africans to stay in Africa, the French should stay home…I will ask the EU to sanction countries that colonize Africa.”
French Foreign Ministry on Monday summoned the Italy’s ambassador in France, denouncing Di Maio’s repeated comments as “unacceptable and irrelevant”, French media reported.
Ways to relocate migrants and share refugees have fuelled tension lately between France and Italy.
Also on Monday, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said in a statement that it “is deeply saddened at emerging reports of an estimated 170 people who either died or went missing in two separate shipwrecks on the Mediterranean.”
UNCHR said the Italian Navy rescued three survivors from one of those shipwrecks, who reported that 117 people were on board with them when they departed from Libya. The Italian Navy on Saturday tweeted that it had rescued “three shipwrecked people in critical condition”, taking them to Italy’s Lampedusa Island by helicopter for treatment.
“In 2018, 2,262 people lost their lives attempting to reach Europe via the Mediterranean Sea. UNHCR is concerned that actions by states are increasingly deterring NGOs (non-governmental organizations) from conducting search and rescue operations, and is calling for these to be lifted immediately,” the UNHCR statement said.
On Monday, however, Italian Interior Minister and League party chief Matteo Salvini reiterated his claim that NGOs are to blame for the deaths at sea, arguing that more migrants leave Libya when humanitarian vessels are on hand and this is why Italy should continue banning them from its ports.
“People traffickers and mobsters must understand that their racket is over,” Salvini tweeted. “Fewer departures, fewer deaths, closed ports.”
A total of 155 migrants reached Italy by sea on Jan. 1-21 this year, against 2,730 in the same month last year, Italy’s Interior Ministry said on its website.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, an Italian, told Corriere della Sera newspaper in an interview on Monday that “Europe is concentrating solely on how to use the next (migrant) arrival” to exploit anti-immigrant sentiment for electoral purposes ahead of European Parliament elections in May.
“When NGOs are allowed to operate, more lives are saved. The withdrawal of many of them has caused an increase in deaths during the crossing,” Grandi told Corriere della Sera, adding that victims “more than doubled” in 2018, when Salvini banned NGO vessels from Italy’s ports, compared with 2017.
According to a September 2018 Eurobarometer survey, a majority of 68 percent of respondents said their country has benefited from EU membership and 50 percent cited immigration as their No.1 concern, followed by the economy and youth unemployment, both at 47 percent. – XINHUA