Matteo Salvini: Italian deputy PM takes stand in migrant kidnap trial
Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini has justified his tough stance on illegal migration while appearing in court in Sicily.
He is currently facing charges of kidnapping and dereliction of duty related to his decision to prevent migrants from disembarking an NGO ship in 2019.
Salvini, leader of the right-wing League at the time, served as the interior minister in a previous government.
He has strongly denied the charges, asserting that his actions were taken “in the interest of national security.”
In August 2019, Salvini issued a decree banning a migrant rescue vessel from entering Italian waters, leading to a prolonged period at sea for the Spanish NGO Open Arms.
Crewmembers later testified about deteriorating conditions onboard, including a scabies outbreak, prompting the vessel’s preventative seizure by Agrigento Prosecutor Luigi Patronaggio on August 20.
Ahead of his court appearance, Salvini expressed pride in his actions on social media, specifically on X, formerly known as Twitter.
The blockade caused a public outcry. Hollywood star Richard Gere visited the Open Arms ship in a show of support and later called upon the Italian government to assist the migrants. Mr. Salvini hit back, telling Mr. Gere to take the migrants “back to Hollywood”.
Today, Mr Salvini – who is now a partner in Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s coalition – told the court in Sicily’s capital of Palermo that he thought “the situation was not at risk” onboard the ship. He also said that he had acted “in full consciousness” and that he was “not inclined to offload my responsibility onto others. I believe I’ve done a useful service for the country.”
“I am taking full responsibility for what we did, which led us to achieve unprecedented results in terms of fighting human trafficking and of saving lives,” Mr Salvini added.
Mr Salvini also said he was “proud to say that no migrant died at sea while I was minister of the interior”. However, data from UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, shows that 926 people died in the central Mediterranean between June 2018 and September 2019, when Mr Salvini was in post.
He also told the court that migrant arrivals fell by 90% under the “closed ports” policy.
While this is corroborated by figures from the Italian interior ministry, it is worth noting that migrant flows are influenced by many factors, such as the political situation in the origin countries of the migrants.
During his hour-long spontaneous deposition, Mr Salvini also sought to demonstrate how the entire Italian government at the time – including PM Conte – backed his hard-line approach to immigration.
Oscar Camps, the founder of the Open Arms NGO, said that he was hoping the trial “will bring about justice and that Matteo Salvini will face the consequences of his choices, which were personal”.
Mr Salvini faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted in the trial, which began in October 2021.