Salvini Resists German Plan To Return Asylum Seekers By Threatening To Close Airports

While the Italian ruling coalition’s steadfast defiance of the European Commission’s dictats regarding their plans to swell the Italian budget deficit have been garnering most of the headlines, the government in Rome risked reviving the controversy surrounding Italy’s decision to close its borders to migrants by refusing to bow to Germany’s demands that the country accept several plane loads of migrants. In response to reports in German media that the southern state of Bavaria was preparing to send back rejected asylum seekers to Italy via chartered flights (in accordance with the so-called Dublin rules), Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini has threatened to close the country’s airports, just like Italy closed its ports to rescue ships sent by international aid agencies.

Responding to reports about Germany’s plans in a tweet, Salvini warned that “if anyone, from Brussels or Berlin, thinks to send dozens of immigrants to Italy via chartered flights without authorization, know that there is not, and there won’t be, any available airports. We will close the airports like we closed the ports!”

Salvini made his threats in response to reports in DPA that Berlin had planned to begin returning rejected asylum-seekers to Italy via chartered flights, with the first flight expected to leave Tuesday, and a second scheduled for Oct. 11. The migrants, mostly Nigerians who had entered Europe via Italy, had reportedly already been informed of their impending deportation via a letter. The Dublin rules, a controversial EU regulation, assign responsibility for migrants to the country where they initially entered.

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While Germany has managed to strike migrant-return deals with Spain and Greece, Italy has been much less willing to negotiate. Though German authorities refused to confirm the reports, Rome fears that Germany might eventually attempt to return as many as 40,000 migrants to Italy under the Dublin rules. There’s also been widespread speculation, highlighted by RT, that German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her coalition partners in the Christian Social Union (led by Horst Seehofer, the interior minister whose clashes with Merkel earlier this year nearly triggered her ouster) were seeking to deport the migrants ahead of local elections in Bavaria, which is a stronghold for the CSU. Of course, this isn’t the first time that Salvini has repudiated claims from Berlin that a migrant agreement had been reached. Back in September, Seehofer said an agreement between Rome and Berlin would be signed “soon”. However, Salvini responded that Rome would not accept “any agreement that could bring even more migrants to Italy.”

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With this latest rejection, Italy is now feuding with France’s Emmanuel Macron, Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, Germany’s ruling coalition and the unelected bureaucrats of the European Commission. Italy’s refusal to adhere to the latter’s strict budgetary guidelines has been relentlessly punished by the markets. 

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Salvini has also tightened Italy’s asylum policy to avoid taking on more migrants. In summary, if Europe’s leaders thought they would be able to browbeat the populist coalition of the League and the Five Star Movement into submission, forcing them to surrender the ideals upon which they ran and were elected, they should try listening when Salvini insists that Italy’s “real enemy” is the unelected “EU bureaucracy.”