First migrants land in Italy under post-Salvini coalition deal with EU

By Lorenzo Tondo

Eighty-two migrants have disembarked in Italy, marking a break from the era of hardline immigration measures pushed by the former interior minister, Matteo Salvini.

On Saturday night, the migrants were transferred from the Norwegian-flagged rescue boat Ocean Viking, operated by the French charities SOS Méditerranée and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), to a coastguard vessel before being taken ashore on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa.

The decision follows an agreement with other EU member states, coordinated by the European commission, and most of those onboard will be relocated to other countries, including France, Germany, Portugal and Luxembourg.

It is the first time this year that Rome has allowed passengers to disembark from an NGO rescue vessel.

Italy’s new government, which won a vote of confidence in the senate on Tuesday – the final step needed to exercise its full powers – intends to draw a line under a crisis sparked by Salvini, the far-right leader of the League.

Giuseppe Conte, on his second mandate as prime minister, has promised to revise the previous government’s anti-immigration policies, which provide for the closure of seaports to rescue vessels carrying migrants, the seizure of NGO boats and fines for ships that bring asylum seekers to Italy without permission. He has formed a coalition between the centre-left Democratic party (PD) and anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S).

Migrants board vans after leaving the Ocean Viking.
Migrants board vans after leaving the Ocean Viking. Most will be relocated to other EU countries. Photograph: Alessandro Serranò/AFP/Getty Images

Meanwhile, Rome announced that a new plan to end the painful process of “haggling over each boatload of rescued migrants” is being discussed among EU member states. The idea is to relocate the asylum seekers to other EU countries before they landing in Italy.

The plan has gained immediate support from Berlin and Paris.

The German interior minister, Horst Seehofer, said that in the future his country would be ready to take 25% of rescued migrants landing in Italy. “That won’t be too much for our immigration policy,” he told Süddeutsche Zeitung.

“We now need to agree on a genuine temporary European mechanism,” the French interior minister, Christophe Castaner, tweeted on Saturday.

EU interior ministers announced they will meet in Malta on 23 September to try to formalise the temporary deal, ahead of a summit in Luxembourg next October.

“This is the end of Salvini’s propaganda over the skin of desperate people at sea and the beginning of good international relations with other countries,” Dario Franceschini, Italy’s minister for culture and leader of the PD party, said on Twitter.

“The new government has opened again its seaports to migrants,” replied Salvini, who is now forced to watch from the opposition benches. “The new ministers must hate our country. Italy is back to being Europe’s refugee camp.”