Salvini closes major Italian migrant camp
An Italian migrant reception centre on Sicily, which was once the largest in Europe, has been officially shut down by the populist Interior Minister Matteo Salvini.
Salvini said the number of migrants in centres across Italy had fallen from 182,000 to 107,000 in 12 months. The deputy prime minister added that asylum requests had halved to about 30,000.
The populist firebrand told the media the camp’s closure was “good news” for residents, citing the murder of an elderly couple in 2015 by an Ivorian teenager who was housed at Mineo.
Mineo, a former housing complex for the United States military, has hosted illegal activities, including an alleged Nigerian drug trafficking ring, which was broken in January.
It was also impacted in a huge bribery scandal, implicating Mineo’s former mayor and the centre’s ex-director and involving immigrant housing.
Allegations included the preferential awarding of contracts and the exaggeration of numbers to attract state subsidies accompanied new arrivals.
It was at one point home to 4,000 migrants.
Salvini said the closure would free up large amounts of public money and law enforcement resources.
Hours ahead of yesterday’s closure, an Italian customs boat arrived at the Sicilian port of Pozzallo carrying 47 rescued migrants who had tried to reach Italy’s southernmost island of Lampedusa.
The migrants were reportedly from Tunisia and sub-Saharan Africa.
Mineo is seen as a significant employer and economic driver on impoverished Sicily.
Around 50 former workers at the centre and unionists protested yesterday (Tuesday) before Salvini’s arrival, with a banner: “Today we celebrate the funeral of Mineo.”
“Mineo’s closure is the inexorable epilogue of a big illusion in a region starved of jobs,” said Sicily’s regional president, Nello Musumeci.
Italy’s Interior Ministry said 3,073 migrants arrived this year, with many from Tunisia and Pakistan. That compared with 17,000 in the same period in 2018 and 85,000 in 2017.
Some migrant boats continue to arrive in Italy under the official radar and are called “ghost arrivals” by the media.
Salvini insisted all new arrivals were being counted.
“They can be big, medium or small, NGO, children, wooden boats, sailboats, paddle boats. The interior ministry counts them all. There is no such thing as ‘ghost ships’,” Salvini told the media.
The interior minister said he had contacted his counterpart in Tunisia to say repatriations would be accelerated.
Interior Minister Matteo Salvini tours the abandoned Mineo. Picture credit: YouTube