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Italy vows to ‘punish troublemakers’ of new migrant rescue

July 10, 2018

ROME (AP) — Italy’s transport minister said Tuesday an investigation is underway into the latest rescue of migrants off Libya, in which an Italian ship tending to an oil rig picked up some 60 would-be refugees.

Minister Danilo Toninelli vowed to “punish the troublemakers” and praised the Italian coast guard for taking on the migrants from the tug Vos Thalassa. Toninelli tweeted Tuesday that the migrants were “putting at risk the lives of the crew” of the Thalassa.

Citing interior ministry officials, news agency ANSA said the Thalassa intervened in the rescue in Libya’s search and rescue zone late Monday, even though the Libyan coast guard had been alerted to the distress call. Under Italy’s new hard-line, anti-migrant interior minister Matteo Salvini, Italy is seeking to have Libya’s coast guard rescue migrants and take them back, rather than letting them come to Italy.

Salvini has already barred humanitarian organizations that rescue migrants from docking in Italy, and is seeking to renegotiate the mandate of European Union missions in the Mediterranean to prevent their ships from disembarking migrants in Italy as well.

Salvini plans to take his campaign to a meeting of EU interior ministers later this week in Austria. He plans to meet with his German counterpart, and with the German and Austrian ministers, before the meeting gets underway Thursday.

Austria’s populist leaders, who hold the rotating EU presidency, have proposed forming a hard-line axis with like-minded partners to reinforce Europe’s external borders.

While more than 640,000 migrants have arrived in Italy since 2014, the number of arrivals this year is down about 80 percent compared with 2017, to nearly 17,000. Most of them — some 11,500 — started from Libya.

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