2018 (manifesto) is an action and project which involved the delivery of a found boat to the Italian Cultural Institute in London, and installation along with a loop track of the sound of the bell used to start and interrupt discussions in the Italian Parliament and printouts of translations of the speech given by Matteo Salvini to the Senate on the occasion of the 'Nave Aquarius' case - transcribed in pseudo-theatrical format and removed of the speaker’s name.
Thank you President. Thank you for the welcoming applause. This is an emotional moment for me. When I started my political career – never mind the government – I didn’t think I would even make it to Parliament. I feel a lot of honour, duty and responsibility. This is my first official statement.
Therefore, I thank you all for your attention. I will listen to everybody. I thank those watching at home. I have had prepared an up-to-date dossier of the facts, of course. I will permit myself to start and conclude with two reflections. First of all, I would like to thank the former public prosecutor of Venice, Carlo Nordio, who today wrote an article which comforted me, entitled “The Law and Rights: The Lesson That Nobody Can Give Our Country”, which compels me to say that I speak on behalf of a government and a majority, but it is my ambition to speak on behalf of a people that have nothing to learn, in terms of generosity, volunteering, hospitality and solidarity, from anybody.
The problem isn’t our rivalry with France in the World Cup, which we’re currently excluded from. The problem is that our history of solidarity, generosity and volunteering does not deserve to be besmirched as it was by a member of the French government, who I hope will apologise as soon as possible for the words used in the last few hours. Carlo Nordio wrote, “International law, like all law, is not an exact science.” Therefore, we have read everything and the opposite of everything on this issue. He adds, “Immigration, which was once relatively modest and controllable, has become an invasion run by criminals.” He finishes by saying, “Our new government will have many flaws”, that’s true, “but at this moment on this issue it is conducting itself with consistency and dignity.”
Consistency and dignity. To which I would add humanity. Because the first thing I did, being a father myself, was to communicate with the Aquarius to immediately take the women and children out of harm’s way.
We’ve not received reply yet. Clearly the emergency was not such an emergency after all. In this moment the Aquarius, alongside two ships of the coast guard, is sailing serenely towards the waters of a country which declared itself willing to receive them. France, as we were saying, France which says we’re cynics...
I want to give the Senate, and those watching, the numbers. From the 1st January of this year to the 31st of May, the rejections at the border of Italy and France sent back to our country 10,249 human beings, including women, children and disabled, and – according to the 2015 agreement on redistributions – France had committed itself to take in 9,816 immigrants. In three years, instead of 9,816 immigrants France has taken in 640. So I would ask President Macron to move from words to action and take in, tomorrow morning, the 9,000 immigrants that they had agreed to take in, as a display of generosity that is concrete and not just words.
I remind you that Italy has received the second largest number of migrants of all the countries in Europe. This is the issue at hand. We are checking the costs and times involved. These are the problems we need to work on. My predecessor did a good job and we are not here to undo the good work of others, we’re simply trying to do an even better job. It’s not that we are more intelligent, but we will look at what was done that was positive, and try to do it even better. What does not work, where my predecessor did not have sufficient success, are the identification times, because from the moment of arrival to the end of the process, including appeals, it can take up to three years – a length of time that is unacceptable and incomprehensible. Regarding costs, for every single asylum seeker I remind you that the French spend 25 euros a day, in some cases with and additional 4 euros for pocket money, the Germans 26, the Croats 25, the Austrians 23 and so on. So we will try to bring these costs, which are for us difficult to sustain, down to what they are in countries similar to us. I don’t see why we should pay 35 euros a day to provide services that in other countries cost much less. Next week I will have the honour of meeting 250 young people, trained to work in the new commissions for identification, which will speed up the process of distinguishing those who are refugees from those who are not.
Some interesting numbers from this year 2018, of the 42,000 requests examined, a political refugee was recognized in 7% of cases. If we add the four cases of subsidiary (temporary) protection, we arrive at 11%. The overwhelming majority of requests are rejected because they have no basis whatsoever. The problem is that there is a business behind it. And I say this laud and clear: 99% of the rejected requests are appealed, and there is the business of the lawyers who make millions of euros off the backs of these unfortunates. The courts are full of them. So, something also needs to be done about this.
I now come to the report that my office prepared for me. I consider it necessary, as minister...
I am sorry if you don’t consider it necessary. I am here as minister and as a man, and I won’t accept, having two children myself, that there is anyone in this government that wants to see children harmed. I want these children not to be put on rafts to die like beasts in the middle of the Mediterranean.
<applause and protests>
I am sick of children dying in the middle of the Mediterranean. Because they’re told that in Italy and Europe there are houses and jobs for everybody. I am sick of these deaths caused by the state. I am sick of these deaths.
<interruption and protests>
If you prefer business, go and work for a company, not in the Senate.
<President: “Signs are not to be brought into the Chamber. Put that sign down. Ok?”>
If Macron doesn’t bother me, a sign certainly won’t either.
Colleague Senator, lift up your sign. I don’t have the slightest problem with it. With regard to the affair of the Aquarius, the government has been asked to give details of the operation that rescued 629 migrants from the waters of the Mediterranean:
- On the 9th of June 2018, within the zone of responsibility claimed by Libya, there were six separate incidents for which the Coast Guard Control Centre in Rome received the first requests for assistance. Following these requests, the control centre in Rome alerted the Libyan authorities.
- First problem. Libya, despite having ratified the convention of 1979 and having recently declared its own zone for search and rescue, did not take over responsibility for the incidents. It should be noted that, assisted by the Italian Coast Guard, Libya is gradually activating its own rescue control centre. We are arranging for me personally to go to Libya this month to try establish equal sharing of rights and responsibilities on both shores of the Mediterranean.
- After the “no” from Libya, we contacted Malta’s Search and Rescue, it being the control centre responsible for the zone immediately adjacent to that of the six incidents. The Maltese authorities did not assume responsibility for the incidents either. As they have been doing for years. The fact we have for once raised our voice will probably make the Maltese confront their responsibility to hep us save lives.
- The control centre in Rome then had to proceed with the rescue operation for the six incidents mentioned. This operation brought to safety 629 people, who were then gathered together on the ship Aquarius. Upon completion of the rescue operation, the Aquarius began sailing North. Once it reached the Maltese zone, to ensure the earliest possible assistance for the migrants, the ship asked Malta – the NGO ship flying the flag of Gibraltar – via the control centre in Rome, for a secure port in which to dock, as per the Hamburg Convention. It should be noted that the Aquarius at 12:00 on Sunday the 10th of June – when 64 nautical miles south of Malta – developed safety problems on board, and asked Malta for permission to disembark the people who had been rescued.
- Whilst awaiting a response to this request, repeated all day long on Sunday 10th of June, the Aquarius remained in the zone of responsibility of Malta.
- In the early hours of the 11th of June, the commander of the ship informed Rome that the sanitary situation was deteriorating and food supplies were running out. Contacted once again on the morning of the 11th of June, in an official communication to the control centre in Rome, Malta denied being responsible of the events in question. They simply weren’t interested. Full stop.
- While waiting for a safe port in which to dock, the Aquarius – positioned inside Malta’s rescue zone – was at all times accompanied by patrol boats of the Italian coast guard with medical personnel on board to provide assistance if needed. It was also supplied with food and everything else necessary for the people on board.
- I emphasise once again, we informed the captain of the Aquarius on two separate occasions, at 12:11 and at 14:00 on the 11th of June, of the willingness of the Italian authorities, on my instruction, to disembark on Italian territory anyone in particular need of medical assistance, including for example pregnant women and children. An offer that was not accepted by the captain of the vessel.
That’s the difference between virtual reality and real reality, between what you read on websites, in newspapers and on social media, and what we asked to do, the response to which was a polite “no thank you, we’re not interested.” Clearly if there is an emergency we are the first to want to intervene. If those on board did not consider this to be an emergency, clearly somebody is saying something that isn’t quite true. But that’s the way it is. On the afternoon of the 11th of June, the Spanish government said it would allow the 629 migrants to disembark at the port of Valencia. This permission was formalised at 22:48 on the same day. I want to thank our Spanish friends, but I am reminded of the numbers. At this moment, Italy is hosting 170,000 asylum seekers in the Italian system. The number for Spain is 16,000. 16,000. 170,000.So I thank the good heart of Prime Minister Sanchez. Let’s just say he has plenty of room to exercise his generosity and hospitality in the coming weeks, considering the numbers he’s starting from.
According to the captain, to complete the voyage safely, the Aquarius could carry no more than 100 migrants. Very well. We got to work. On the evening of the 11th of June we held a meeting attended by the prime minister, at his office. I want to thank my colleagues for their unity of action and purpose, Danilo Toninelli, Transport and Infrastructure, Trenta, Defense and the Navy. It was decided to send two ships, one from the navy and one from the coast guard, to assist the Aquarius and take on board 250 people on the Orione and 273 on the Dattilo, to ensure an uneventful and safe voyage towards Valencia for the Aquarius. These are the facts. This is a political chamber, you’re all free to interpret them as you will.
The migrant crisis is certainly complex. I refer to the 170,000 immigrants being hosted at the moment, a number which has decreased in the last year, thanks to effective and clever operations by my predecessor to reduce the number of people landing. Something I will try to work on even more. There are some oddities. The largest ethnic group this year has been the 3,000 citizens of Tunisia. I want as son as possible to go and meet my Tunisian colleague because it appears to be a country that is free, with independent institutions, it hasn’t suffered war, plague or famine, so I will offer all the support and help necessary to the people of Tunisia so these young people can grow up and seek a job and a life in their country rather than putting themselves on boats.
I have another four or five pages, but I would prefer to dedicate my time to you rather than reading numbers. In the past few days I have been speaking with many of our European colleagues. I have read that Italy is isolated. I think we have never been more central and more listened to. I have spoken with my German colleague and we agree that we need to treat the protection of Italy’s borders as the protection of Europe’s borders. We cannot be the only ones to do what we are doing, to our credit, in the Mediterranean, bearing the economic and social costs.
If Europe is there, do something now or forever hold your peace. We have given it the opportunity. I have spoken with my French colleague, my Hungarian colleague, I will soon speak with my Austrian colleague. I have spoken with the ambassadors of many countries, from Tunisia to Libya. That is why there is a focus now as never before. We must now play our cards in a manner that is proactive, not simply negative. Thus the Dublin regulation clearly needs to be scrapped. They tried to impose a standard that would have exacerbated the situation in Italy, with stays up to ten years for further migrants, with no possibility of other countries taking them in. We have agreed on a constructive “no” and, with my German and Austrian colleagues – seeing as on the 1st of July Austria will assume the EU presidency –, we will propose a new initiative, on both the internal and external levels. I have felt a heavy burden in the last few days. Political criticism is ok. There should be. It is healthy.
My aim is to save lives. My aim is to enable these children to grow up in the best manner possible, without running away from their villages and towns to get onto rafts that the criminals of the human trafficking business send out deflated because there is somebody out there who will go and pick up these unfortunates.
So, we will see in the coming hours they are disembarking migrants that were picked up by ships of the Italian military. Its time for states to return to be states. It is not possible that private associations, financed by who knows who, are deciding how and when immigration takes place.
It is enough to look at where some of the financing comes from, but that will be the subject of an upcoming official statement. I love every type of generosity, of volunteering, I am a blood and organ donor, but when I read that behind some organisation there is the Open Society Foundation of George Soros I start to have some doubts...
...about how spontaneous this generosity is. About how spontaneous this generosity is! I conclude with a reflection: “Love thy neighbour as thyself.” Correct. So my neighbours are women and children who flee from war and are the first victims of the troubles we are experiencing. Because the small number of women and children who flee from war must have, in our home, their home. And must not be mixed up with an illegal immigration which leads only to social conflict. However, “Love thy neighbour as thyself” also means to love the millions of Italians who have in silence lost their homes, their jobs and hope. Who have lost their jobs, their homes and hope.
So, with all my limitations and all my flaws, I will do everything humanly possible to give a voice to these real refugees, and to the legal, proper, immigrants who come here to make a future for themselves and their children respecting our history, our culture and our traditions. Above all, I will do everything I can to make hope return to those Italians that have lost it. To this I will dedicate all my coming years, as minister, but above all, of my life, honoured to be able to do so in service of the Italian people. Thank you.