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ROME – The right-wing interior minister who closed Italy's ports to aid groups that rescue migrants in the Mediterranean said Sunday that he wants to extend the prohibition to foreign navy ships.
Matteo Salvini said he would bring up Italy's desire to keep navy ships carrying rescued migrants from its ports when European Union interior ministers meet this week in Austria. Salvini made the statement on Facebook after the Irish navy ship Samuel Beckett arrived in the Sicilian port of Messina with 106 migrants after participating in an EU-sponsored mission.
"Unfortunately, Italian governments over the past five years have signed agreements (in exchange for what?) so that all these ships disembark immigrants in Italy," Salvini wrote. "With our government, the music has changed and will change."
The EU's border control force, Frontex, operates a search-and-rescue operation in the Mediterranean using air and sea resources contributed from a variety of countries. Italy's coast guard coordinates the rescues and tells Frontex ships where to disembark.
In addition, the EU operates a military operation, Operation Sophia, focused on fighting people smuggling and arms trafficking; the Samuel Beckett was participating in Operation Sophia, officials said.
Italian Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli suggested that Italy would be taking aim at the terms of Operation Sophia. Toninelli said on Twitter that Italy was required to accept the Samuel Becket's passengers under a "crazy" agreement negotiated by the previous government that "sold out Italy's interests."
"We respect the rules, but now they will be changed," Toninelli tweeted. "Migration can't just be an Italian problem or else the EU is at risk."
Salvini's anti-migrant League party is governing Italy in a coalition with the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement. Since the new government took office on June 1, it has launched a major crackdown on migration while the number of people embarking for Europe from Libya is much lower than in previous years.
By closing Italy's ports to boats operated by humanitarian groups, Salvini has forced other EU countries to take in rescued migrants.