Rome has still not reached an agreement with Berlin on the repatriation of asylum seekers who had first registered in Italy, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said, vowing to close airports to German flights transferring refugees.
“If someone in Berlin or Brussels thinks of dumping dozens of migrants in Italy via unauthorized charter flights, they should know that there is not and there will be no airport available,” Salvini said in a statement, adding that Italy will “close the airports” just as it earlier closed its ports to NGO vessels carrying migrants rescued in the Mediterranean.
His sharp statement comes in response to the rumors first circulatedby the Italian La Repubblica daily that Germany plans to speed up repatriation procedures ahead of the regional elections in the state of Bavaria, the home state of the Interior Minister Horst Seehofer.
The first charter flight carrying asylum seekers from Germany to Italy is reportedly scheduled for Tuesday, October 9, the media reported. Other media reports set the date of the flight on Thursday, October 11. Germany’s refugee and migration agency, the BAMF, allegedly already sent “dozens of letters” to the would-be repatriates informing them about the planned transfers to Italy, according to La Repubblica.
Earlier, the German dpa news agency also said that such a flight is scheduled for “the coming days.” This information, however, was neither confirmed nor denied by the German authorities. Rome fears that Germany might eventually attempt to send back to Italy as many as 40,000 people, who arrived there from the southern European country, the Italian media report.
The recent harsh statement risks heightening tensions between the two nations, which are still struggling to reach an agreement on repatriation of migrants, a point of contention between them for quite some time. In mid-September, Seehofer said that Berlin and Rome agreed on a deal. His statement was, however, refuted by Salvini the next day.
In late September, Seehofer once again announced that the agreement will be signed “soon.” Salvini, however, said most recently that Rome would not “accept any agreement that could bring even more migrants to Italy.”
Italy’s Minister of Economic Development, Luigi Di Maio, also rejected the idea of accepting refugees sent back from Germany prior to reaching an agreement with Berlin. “To do such things we need agreements,” he said, adding that “no such agreement has been signed.”
He also argued that Italy cannot send migrants back to the sub-Saharan countries without any agreements, adding that he believes it “cannot be done in case of Italy and Germany” as well. A coalition of left and right politicians united by an anti-immigration stance has come to power in Italy this year.
Salvini already introduced some hardline anti-immigrant measures and, on several occasions, pointedly refused to accept migrants rescued in the Mediterranean by some charities. The Italian government also greenlighted a decree tightening national asylum policy. Salvini’s anti-immigrant stance also put him at odds with some European politicians, including the French President Emmanuel Macron and Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn.