Italian former minister Matteo Salvini goes on trial for kidnap over blocked migrant ship

·2 min read

The first trial of Italy's former interior minister Matteo Salvini, who is charged with kidnapping after he refused to allow a migrant rescue ship dock in Sicily in 2019, has begun.

Mr Salvini - who likened humanitarian rescue ships to migrant taxi services - left 147 people rescued from the Mediterranean Sea on board the ship for days in August 2019.

He was present for the opening day of the trial in Palermo, which is the first against him regarding his actions to prevent migrant landings while in office.

Mr Salvini had taken a hard line on migrant arrivals, attempting to block ships from entering Italian territorial waters and from docking at Italian ports while calling for other European nations to take the burden of the arrivals.

The politician built his reputation by campaigning against illegal immigration but agreed to allow "presumed minors" to disembark.

Actor Richard Gere boarded a migrant boat refused access to a port by Mr Salvini in order to deliver food and supplies.

At the time, Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, advised European countries to "do the right thing" and aid the migrants "in their time of need", but so far only Ireland and Albania have offered to take about 20 each.

"European solidarity is important and this is the right thing to do," the Irish foreign minister, Simon Coveney, said on Twitter.

Contemporary reports in Italy announced that prosecutors had opened an inquiry into Mr Salvini for "illegal confinement, illegal arrest and abuse of power" regarding his treatment of the boats.

Earlier this year another court in Catania, Sicily, decided not to try Mr Salvini in a similar case - this time for keeping 116 migrants on board an Italian coastguard ship at sea for five days - also in 2019.

In court he is now accused of dereliction of duty and of refusing to allow the ship into port for almost three weeks, during which time some migrants threw themselves overboard and the captain pleaded for a safe nearby port.

During this period some of the migrants were taken to land for humanitarian or health reasons while the remaining 83 were eventually permitted to disembark on the Italian island of Lampedusa when Salvini was overruled by then prime minister Giuseppe Conte.

"We expect justice for the unnecessary suffering that all the people had in those 20 days," said Oscar Camps, head of the Spanish non-governmental organisation Open Arms, whose ship had rescued the migrants off the coast of Libya.

Later that same August, Mr Salvini resigned from the coalition government formed between his own right-wing League group and Mr Conte's supporters in the populist 5-Star movement.

He announced a motion of no confidence against Mr Conte, though in the end the prime minister remained in post by resigning before forming a new coalition with Italy's centre-left Democratic Party.

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