Matteo Salvini has hit back at claims made by Italy’s left-wing media that the Italian authorities refused to assist the casualties of a migrant boat that sank in rough seas off the country’s east coast on Sunday.
A boat reported to be carrying as many as 250 migrants set sail from the Turkish city of Izmir and was heading for Crotone before getting into difficulty in the Ionian Sea.
Parts of the shipwreck washed up on Italian shores on Monday, sparking uproar from humanitarian groups who accused the Italian government of having blood on its hands for its policy to stifle the operations of NGO rescue vessels. This is despite the fact that humanitarian vessels rarely operate in the region and instead focus their efforts on the crossing between Italy and North Africa to the country’s southwest.
Liberal newspapers subsequently led with spurious headlines accusing the Italian authorities of being complicit in the current death toll of 64 people.
The Domani newspaper ran the headline: “Salvini and his coastguard let the migrants die,” while il Fatto Quotidiano ran with: “The coastguard knew about, but did not rescue the migrants.”
Matteo Salvini, the Italian deputy prime minister and current transport and infrastructure minister, hit back at the headlines on Wednesday in a staunch defense of the coastguard.
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“Not a word against human traffickers who sentenced dozens of innocent people to death: The propaganda of certain leftists does not stop even in the face of a tragedy like this and offends the enormous effort of the women and men of the Coast Guard who save lives,” he said.
“I’m used to lies against me, but I don’t accept infamy about those who have always saved human lives through enormous efforts and sacrifices. Helping those in difficulty is not a choice but a duty,” Salvini tweeted, adding that it is “insane and grossly offensive to imagine that someone wanted people to die.”
“Solidarity with the 10,200 women and men of the coastguard,” he added.
Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi refuted on Tuesday claims made by aid groups that Italian search and rescue teams had been slow to react to the incident. He revealed how two patrol vessels had been deployed after Frontex aircraft had identified the vessel in distress but had to suspend their efforts due to adverse weather conditions.
“There was no delay,” Piantedosi said. “Everything possible was done in absolutely prohibitive sea conditions,” he added.
Piantedosi risked the further wrath of the left-wing media by claiming that the parents of the 14 children confirmed dead in the tragedy are to blame.
“Desperation can never justify traveling in conditions that endanger the lives of their children,” he said.