A split emerged in Italy’s populist coalition government Wednesday after right-wing leader and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini rejected an E.U. plan, approved by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, to send about a dozen rescued migrants to Italy -- although Salvini later backed down and agreed to let some enter.
This week, the Maltese government announced a deal to distribute a group of 49 asylum seekers from two rescue boats to a number of European countries -- including Italy. Conte, a political neophyte chosen by Italy’s populist coalition to lead the government, said that if Italy took about 15 child migrants and their parents, then it wouldn’t “stain” the country’s crackdown on accepting migrants from rescue boats.
That was met with a furious response from Salvini -- the leader of the right-wing, anti-immigration League who serves as the interior minister in the government consisting of his party and the anti-establishment 5 Star Movement. The coalition formed last year, representing one of the biggest gains for the populist movement sweeping the continent.
"Whether it is eight or eighty-eight migrants, I do not authorize anyone to enter Italy," Salvini said in Poland on Tuesday, according to La Repubblica.
Salvini has been one of the continent’s most vocal advocates against mass migration, and the driving force behind Italy’s push to keep numbers down, particularly those who board makeshift boats from Libya and are rescued by NGO rescue boats.
His push has worked, with numbers of migrants from irregular crossing dropping to their lowest levels in years, but the pressure from the E.U. to take in rescued migrants as part of a continent-wide response to the crisis has not let up.
Salvini said that it was up to him to authorize such a move, which he had not.
“I do not authorize the arrivals of migrants. We consult before making decisions like this. I do not understand this acceleration of Conte. I have control over ports,” he said.
The open clash marks a significant feud within the coalition in a country that sees fragile coalitions dissolve frequently. An op-ed in La Repubblica declared that the government “is already finished.”
But by Wednesday Salvini appeared to accede to a form of the plan. After a meeting of senior government officials, around 10 migrants were allowed to come to Italy but would be entrusted to the care of the Waldensian Church at no cost to the state, Italian news wire ANSA reported.
Salvini said on Twitter that he had not changed his mind on the issue, and was ultimately happy with the outcome.
“Our ports remain closed, the landings are zero and the Italians will not pay a euro for other new arrivals,” he said. “The battle against smugglers, traffickers and rogue NGOs continues!”
He later told an Italian radio station that he doesn’t want the government to collapse: "The government is fine. We have done a lot in six months and the two government parties have the confidence of 60 percent of the Italian people, which is pretty unique".
The Associated Press contributed to this report.