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Italy shuts down key migrant centre

A migrant reception centre in Mineo on the Italian island of Sicily, which was once the largest migrant centre in Europe, has been officially shut down on 9 July. 

The Mineo centre once housed over 4,000 people at its peak in 2014. Touring the emptied facility was Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, one of the top figures representing the anti-immigrant Italian far-right.  Salvini disapproved of the Mineo centre, claiming it harbored African criminal rings and consumed government money.

“This is the promise I made to the Sicilians and Italians. We gradually reduced the numbers until today when we dropped to zero,” Salvini told reporters.

The migrants have been transferred to another facility in the Calabria region. Salvini said the future for migrants and asylum seekers will be in “smaller and more controlled centres”.

According to ANSA news agency, the decision to close the Mineo centre was announced by Salvini in June this year, after the number of asylum seekers there declined from 2,526 in 2018 to 152 in 2019.  Salvini said “now it’s Mineo’s turn”, referring to the closure of other big migrant centres due to Italy’s policy of stopping migrant rescue ships from entering Italian ports. 

Italy’s strong fight to curb irregular migration has led to a drastic decrease in the number of migrant arrivals, according to figures from the Italian Interior Ministry. The country’s Interior Ministry figures show that only 3,073 migrants arrived in Italy so far this year. This is a sharp decline compared with 17,000 in the same period last year and 85,000 a year earlier. The number of migrants arriving on Italian shores decreased by 80 per cent in 2018 compared to the previous year, according to the Foundation for Initiatives and Studies on Multi-ethnicity (ISMU).

While Italy’s ports are still closed for migrant rescue boats, the country’s cabinet agreed last month on a law allowing for fines of up to EUR 50,000 to be issued to any vessel that enters Italian ports without permission.

Taking the fight against irregular migrants further, Salvini also stated on 8 July that his government will deploy and finance navy and police ships “to defend” Italian ports. He said that the Libyan coast guard will accept ten motorboats from Italy so that more irregular migrants could be intercepted at sea. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has reported that over 3,700 migrants have been intercepted at sea and returned to Libya in 2019 so far.

The ongoing clashes in Libya have forced many migrants to attempt the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean Sea to Italy in unsafe boats despite the risks. As of 4 July 2019, 426 migrant deaths were recorded in the Central Mediterranean.

TMP – 17/07/2019

Photo credit: Cineberg / Shutterstock.com

Photo caption: Italy’s interior ministry is spearheading the country’s fight against irregular migration.