Italian minister faces probe into stranded migrants’ treatment

ROME (AFP) – Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini on Friday launched a blistering attack on prosecutors in Sicily after they confirmed a probe into his refusal to allow more than 100 rescued migrants off a coastguard ship last month.

Prosecutors in Palermo on Friday informed Salvini of the inquiry into his 10-day alleged “illegal confinement” of the migrants in a letter that he opened and read in a video broadcast live on his Facebook page.

“An organ of the state is probing another organ of the state. With the small difference that you (the voters) elected this organ of the state,” Salvini said in the video.

“The others have not been elected by anyone and are not answerable (for their actions) to anyone.

“It is you who asked this minister to control the borders, to control the ports, to limit arrivals, to limit the departure of illegal migrants,” he said.

The migrants on the Diciotti coastguard ship had been stranded at a port in Sicily before Salvini finally allowed them to disembark on August 26 after Ireland, Albania and the Italian Catholic church agreed to take most of them in.

The 10-day blocking of the Diciotti migrants followed a number of similar standoffs in which Italy turned away ships with migrants rescued at sea in a campaign to make EU countries take their share.

The government threatened to stop billions of euros of EU funding over the issue, accusing Europe of turning its back as Italy grapples with seemingly endless migrant arrivals.

Salvini, who is also deputy prime minister and the leader of the far-right League party, said in Friday’s video that he regarded the prosecutor’s letter as a “medal”.

“Thank you prosecutors…. I respect your work. Do it well, do it quickly, but you only give me more power,” he said.