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Italian mayors rebel against Salvini migrant laws

January 4, 2019

Several left-wing mayors in Italy have refused to obey the "anti-migrant" policies of interior minister, Matteo Salvini. The right-wing leader has spearheaded a move to tighten asylum laws.

The migrant search and rescue ship Sea-Watch 3, operated by German NGO Sea-Watch, off the coast of Malta
Image: Reuters/D. Zammit Lupi

The mayors of several Italian cities on Friday said they were refusing to obey Italy's new anti-migrant law. The so-called Salvini decree strips humanitarian protection for migrants not approved for refugee status, but who cannot be deported.

The left-wing "rebel" mayors condemned the new legislation — which makes it easier to expel new arrivals and limits residence permits — as unconstitutional.

The "Salvini decree" also abolished humanitarian protection permits granted to people who didn't qualify for asylum, but for whom it was too dangerous to return home. 

Italy was the only EU member state offering the two-year permits which allowed vulnerable people to live in state-run reception centers and access training and educational programs and find work. 

'Palermo open to all migrants'

Thousands pushed into 'illegality'

Palermo mayor Leoluca Orlando said the law "incites criminality, rather than fighting or preventing it."

"There are thousands, tens of thousands of people who legally reside here in Italy, who pay their taxes, who pay into pensions, and in a couple of weeks or months they will become ... illegal."

Salvini fired back at Orlando, suggesting he should "take care of the many problems in his city instead."

That prompted Florence mayor Dario Nardella to chime in, saying that his city would "not bow to" a law which "expels asylum-seekers and, without repatriating them, throws them out onto the street."

Read more: Thousands march for refugee rights in Italy 

'Naples will welcome stranded migrants'

Naples mayor Luigi de Magistris then upped the ante by offering to take in 32 migrants who are blocked in limbo at sea after being rescued by an NGO but denied a safe port in Europe.

"I hope the boat approaches the port of Naples, because — contrary to what the government says — we will launch a rescue plan and let them dock. I will oversee the rescue operation myself," de Magistris told a local broadcaster.

The mayors of Bari and Milan also protested the new migrant law.

Salvini had described the law as a "big step forward" in what he termed the "fight" against migrant arrivals, including greater police powers to "make Italy safer."

Italy's new populist government has pursued a hard-line position on migrants, having shouldered a large burden during the influx of refugees. It has blocked charity-run search-and-rescue vessels from docking in Italian ports, forcing France's Aquarius to divert to Spain and Germany's Lifeline to dock in Malta after they both spent days stranded at sea last summer. 

Read more: Europe's apathy toward humanitarian rescue outrages NGOs  

kw/rt (AFP, dpa) 

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