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Salvini dismisses EU migrant ship proposals at emergency talks

3 min

Helsinki (AFP)

Italy's interior minister, Matteo Salvini, said his government's position was unchanged after emergency EU talks in Helsinki on Wednesday to try and end the Mediterranean migrant rescue crisis.

EU interior ministers gathered over dinner to debate an initiative, reportedly launched by France and Germany, to form a group of countries willing to systematically admit migrants whenever they disembark from rescue ships between now and October.

However, in a tweet after the dinner, Salvini wrote: "While France and Germany continue to want Italy to be one of the very few landing countries, we are working on a solid Mediterranean axis which wants to change the rules and crush human trafficking," Salvini tweeted.

Earlier in the day Salvini also met his Maltese counterpart, Michael Farrugia, to discuss migration.

Italy's populist government has refused to allow ships carrying people saved from the sea to dock as long as too few EU countries promise to regularly admit such migrants.

The proposal debated at dinner in the Finnish capital called for "a more predictable and efficient temporary solidarity mechanism," according to a draft obtained by AFP.

EU officials said so far at least six of the 28 EU countries including France and Germany were willing to join the scheme.

But they conceded this number might not be enough to persuade Italy to allow rescue ships to dock in its ports.

The scheme is "to ensure the swift and dignified disembarkation of migrants rescued at sea by private vessels in the closest safe harbour," the draft added.

Participating countries will contribute through October "to the reception of asylum-seekers rescued at sea by private vessels in the Central Mediterranean."

It said the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, will coordinate to ensure rescued migrants disembark in harbours of EU countries on the central Mediterranean route, which include Italy and Malta.

The countries will "ensure the relocation of those applying for international protection to our national territories is achieved as fast as possible," according to the draft.

Earlier in the evening, Finnish Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo told reporters that Wednesday's discussions were "only the start" of a process to find a way out of the deadlock.

- Elusive reform -

Refugee and migrant arrivals on Europe's southern shores have dropped off sharply since 2015, but the issue is still a hot political topic dividing Europe's capitals.

Decrying previous "ad hoc" efforts, Ohisalo called earlier this week for "shared responsibility involving a sufficiently large number of member states."

A European official told AFP on condition of anonymity that the dinner was to devise a mechanism "to avoid a political or humanitarian crisis over summer."

EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulous was due to attend the talks.

"We need temporary arrangements following disembarkation," Avramopoulous tweeted.

He said these "can serve as a bridge until the completion of the reform of the Common European Asylum System," which has been elusive since the 2015 crisis.

Under current rules, asylum-seekers must be processed in the countries where they arrive. Frontline states like Italy, Malta and Greece say this puts an unfair burden on them.

Italy, largely at Salvini's direction over the last year, has demonstrated it will no longer tolerate the status quo.

It has taken a tough line on NGO rescue ships attempting to dock with rescued migrants and refugees, two of which recently made forced landings.

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