The Current

Italian government's suggestion NGOs are colluding with traffickers is 'shameful politicking,' aid worker says

Matteo Salvini, Italy's newly installed far-right interior minister, defended his government's controversial decision to close Italy's ports to NGO rescue operations on the grounds of "collusion" between migrant traffickers and aid workers.

Thousands of lives now at risk, says MSF worker

Last month, the Aquarius rescue vessel, carrying some 630 migrants from the Libyan coast, was put in peril after both Malta and Italy refused the ship to enter their ports. (Christophe Petit Tesson/EPA-EFE)

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Recasting rescue workers on the Mediterranean Sea as co-conspirators with Libyan traffickers puts thousands of lives at risk, said a Médecins Sans Frontières project coordinator.

Aloys Vimard was aboard the Aquarius alongside 630 rescued migrants, which was denied entry to Italy's port last month. After nine days, Spain offered refuge to the vessel. 

In a speech to the Italian Senate, Matteo Salvini, Italy's newly installed far-right interior minister, defended his government's controversial decision to reject the Aquarius by suggesting collusion between migrant traffickers and MSF.

Vimard characterized the move to demonize humanitarian efforts as "shameful politicking," especially given the critical shortage of rescue operations in the Mediterranean.

"It is well documented how horrific the situation is for asylum seekers, refugees, migrants from Libya. But it is just politicking to push the sufferings out of sight, out of mind."

"How will this be a solution? People are desperate. In Libya, they don't have hope. Unfortunately, the hope is at sea."

The Italian government is picking up on the public's perception of unbridled immigration and stoking those fears for political gain, said Francesco Galietti, co-founder and CEO Rome-based consultancy firm Policy Sonar. 

"If we look at the numbers, migrants and boat-people have been trending downwards long ago. So it's mostly about perceptions," he told The Current's guest host Megan Williams. 

"For many months, Italians have been bombarded with footage of boat-people picked up by NGOs in the middle of the Mediterranean​. Salvini has leveraged this and he has identified NGOs as a culprit, calling them an ​'Uber' — [a] free shuttle service."

So far this year, at least 1,500 migrants have died on the Mediterranean, according to UN figures. 

Listen to the full conversation near the top of this page. 

This segment was produced by The Current's Samira Mohyeddin​ and Kristian Jebsen.