Italy’s Salvini says he is under investigation for ‘kidnapping’ migrants after refusing entry

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said this week that he is under investigation for allegedly “kidnapping” migrants when the Italian government refused to allow an NGO ship of rescued migrants to dock.

Salvini, who serves as a deputy prime minister in the coalition between his nationalist party, League, and the radical 5-Star Movement, said on Twitter on Monday that he was under investigation, but was defiant in his position.

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“I do not change my mind! “ he tweeted “For the good or the Italians, with me the ports are and remain CLOSED!”

The investigation centers on a decision in January not to allow the Sea Watch vessel, carrying 47 migrants, to dock in Italy, according to La Repubblica. The rescue boat was one of a number of vessels that rescues migrants coming from Libya, and brings them to Italian shores.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, and fellow Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio are also facing charges for the refusal to allow migrants to leave the boat, according to The Guardian.

Italian Deputy Premier and Labour and Industry Minister, Luigi Di Maio, gestures while attending a press conference during his visit to the Salone del Mobile Furniture Fair, near Milan, Italy, Friday, April 11, 2019.

Italian Deputy Premier and Labour and Industry Minister, Luigi Di Maio, gestures while attending a press conference during his visit to the Salone del Mobile Furniture Fair, near Milan, Italy, Friday, April 11, 2019. (Daniel Dal Zennaro/ANSA via AP)

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At the time, Di Maio invited the boat to travel to Marseille, France instead. It was eventually allowed to dock, but only after an agreement was reached by which the migrants could be distributed to other countries -- including France.

Salvini’s League shot from near obscurity to the top of the polls last year, and has stayed there since the 2018 election, in part by promising to end the practice and to cut down on the number of migrants entering the country from Libya.

Salvini's approach has produced results: official numbers showed that in January 2018, 3,176 migrants landed on the Italian coast via boats. But in January 2019 that number was just 155.

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But Salvini has faced continued opposition from the courts. He had previously been facing charges of kidnapping over his refusal to allow a boat of 177 migrants to land in Italy last year. However, Senate lawmakers blocked the case from proceeding.

The legal challenges have not stopped Salvini from going forward with his agenda. Last week, he announced a right-wing alliance with other nationalist leaders ahead of the European Parliament elections in May.