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Matteo Salvini: Italian deputy PM takes stand in migrant kidnap trial

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    1 day ago
Image source, Getty Images

Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini has defended his hard-line approach against illegal migration during a court appearance in Sicily.

He is facing kidnap and dereliction of duty charges for preventing migrants from disembarking an NGO ship in 2019.

He has denied the charges, saying he acted “in the interest of national security”.

At the time, Mr Salvini – the leader of the right-wing League – was interior minister in a previous government.


Ahead of his court appearance, Mr Salvini said on X, formerly Twitter, that he was “holding his head high, proud of what I did”.

In August 2019, a migrant rescue vessel belonging to Spanish NGO Open Arms arrived near Italian shores carrying 147 migrants who had been rescued in the Mediterranean.

Mr Salvini – who a year earlier had announced his intention to “close the ports” of Italy to NGO rescue ships – immediately signed a decree banning the vessel from entering Italian territorial waters.

As a result, the Open Arms remained at sea for almost three weeks.

Crewmembers later testified that the migrants’ physical and mental wellbeing disintegrated quickly over that period, eventually reaching crisis point due to dire sanitary conditions onboard, including a scabies outbreak.

On 20 August, Agrigento Prosecutor Luigi Patronaggio ordered the vessel to be preventatively seized after inspecting it and noting the “difficult situation on board”.

The blockade caused public outcry. Hollywood star Richard Gere visited the Open Arms ship in a show of support and later called upon the Italian government to assist the migrants. Mr Salvini hit back, telling Mr Gere to take the migrants “back to Hollywood”.

Today, Mr Salvini – who is now a partner in Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s coalition – told the court in Sicily’s capital of Palermo that he thought “the situation was not at risk” onboard the ship. He also said that he had acted “in full consciousness” and that he was “not inclined to offload my responsibility onto others. I believe I’ve done a useful service for the country.”

“I am taking full responsibility for what we did, which led us to achieve unprecedented results in terms of fighting human trafficking and of saving lives,” Mr Salvini added.

Mr Salvini also said he was “proud to say that no migrant died at sea while I was minister of the interior”. However, data from UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, shows that 926 people died in the central Mediterranean between June 2018 and September 2019, when Mr Salvini was in post.

He also told the court that migrant arrivals fell by 90% under the “closed ports” policy.

While this is corroborated by figures from the Italian interior ministry, it is worth noting that migrant flows are influenced by many factors, such as the political situation in the origin countries of the migrants.

During his hour-long spontaneous deposition, Mr Salvini also sought to demonstrate how the entire Italian government at the time – including PM Conte – backed his hard-line approach to immigration.

Oscar Camps, the founder of the Open Arms NGO, said that he was hoping the trial “will bring about justice and that Matteo Salvini will face the consequences of his choices, which were personal”.

Mr Salvini faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted in the trial, which began in October 2021.

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