The Italian Senate today allowed the opening of a trial against far-right leader Matteo Salvini for blocking the ship of the Spanish NGO Open Arms with immigrants on board a year ago, when he was Minister of the Interior.
The decision of the Upper House had the votes of the parties in the Government: the anti-system Five Star Movement (M5S) and progressives Democratic Party (P.S), Free and Equal (LeU) e Live Italy (IV), the latter decisive, among others.
Specific, 149 senators voted to prosecute him, while 141 did so and there was one abstention.
“I am proud to have defended Italy: I would do it again and I will do it again, also because in this July alone the landings are six times those of the same period of the previous year, with the League in government. I keep going, with my head held high and my conscience clear, “said Salvini in a note.
“I am not afraid, I will not be intimidated and they will not silence me: I remind all the parliamentarians that, sooner or later, the voters’ judgment will come,” he added.
For its part, Open Arms, the Spanish NGO based in Catalonia, in Badalona, has celebrated the decision and has said that the vote assumes a universal value because it has rejected “a vision of the world and politics” that it has preferred ” the omission of relief and the rejection of power to the rescue “.
In August 2019 the then Minister of the Interior blocked for 20 days the Open Arms ship with about 150 immigrants saved at sea, within the framework of its policy of closed ports. The Palermo Court of Ministers asks to prosecute him for kidnapping people.
The Senate vote does not imply its direct prosecution but this will depend on a preliminary hearing in the Court of Palermo (south) in which it will be necessary to decide if the leader of the League is sent to trial or if, on the contrary, the case is filed.
20 days at sea
Salvini promoted a strong closed port policy to the ships of humanitarian organizations in the central Mediterranean when he was Minister of the Interior, a position he lost in September last year when he dynamited his coalition with the Five Stars.
The ship of Open Arms had rescued nearly 150 immigrants in Mediterranean waters in various operations in the first days of August 2019 and was waiting for a European port for its landing.
Salvini refused from the first moment to offer a port and Open Arms, meanwhile, rejected the offer of the Spanish authorities to go to the ports of Algeciras and Mahón: the journey would be too long and risky.
On August 15, the Italian Justice responded to an appeal by the Spanish organization against Salvini’s veto and allowed the humanitarian ship enter the waters of the island of Lampedusa, the southernmost enclave in the country, to protect itself from bad weather.
Finally, on the night of August 20, the Prosecutor’s Office allowed the 83 immigrants remaining on board to disembark in Lampedusa, as many had been evacuated before, ending the odyssey.
Defense of Salvini
During his speech in the Senate, the far-right leader dismissed this vote as a “political” issue and criticized his former Five Star partners, who in the past defended him in a similar case and now allow his prosecution.
The senator assured that “the pirate ship” refused to go to his flag state, he believed that he acted in agreement with the entire government and with the prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, his “accomplice”, and said that his “sacred” duty was to defend the borders of “the invasion”.
Salvini ended by thanking those who allow his trial: “They give me a gift, I will go with my head high and my back straight,” he warned with an ovation, always on the lookout for political revenue and whose popularity appears downward in the latest polls.
The politician always defended that his actions were shared by the entire Government. Despite the senator of the M5S, Elvira Lucia Evangelista, reminded him that Conte himself pressed for the most vulnerable and minors to disembark. “It was Salvini’s personal policy,” he concluded.
The extreme right-wing faces another process for a similar case, for blocking in July 2019 a ship of lItalian Coast Guard with 131 immigrants on board, and the hearing that must decide whether to open the process is expected for October in Catania (south).
New migratory wave
The Senate vote and Salvini’s immunity withdrawal comes at a time when Italy is seeing a significant increase in the migratory flow from the coasts of North Africa, a phenomenon that this year worries more about the coronavirus pandemic.
So far this year until today, 13,381 immigrants have landed in Italy, compared to 3,654 in the same period of 2019, according to data from the Ministry of the Interior. An increase that is overwhelming the southern reception systems, especially those of Lampedusa.
Salvini never tires of repeating that this increase is due to the fact that his policy of closed ports is no longer applied to immigrants.
Interior has recognized that this is an “unprecedented” scenario, as many boats reach the Italian coast autonomously, without requiring a prior rescue, often from Tunisia.
Among the causes of the increase in landings, according to the ministry, are the coronavirus pandemic and the “very serious” economic crisis that has hit the North African countries.