Italian anti-immigrant leader Matteo Salvini on Thursday takes his campaign for September elections to the tiny island of Lampedusa, the landing point for thousands of migrants trying to reach Europe.
Dozens of leaky, overcrowded boats have arrived in and around Lampedusa in recent days from north Africa, some landing directly and others requiring rescue by the local coastguard.
As often in the summer months, when the sea is calmer, the island’s reception centre has become overwhelmed, with more than 1,500 people said to be there this week, in a facility designed for 350.
Salvini, who leads Italy’s League party, has made stopping the arrivals the cornerstone of his platform ahead of general elections on September 25, where he is expected to gain power as part of a right-wing alliance.
“Italy cannot accept tens of thousands of immigrants who only bring problems,” he said on Wednesday, adding: “Italy is not Europe’s refugee camp.”
He accused Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government – which he helped bring down last month by withdrawing his support – of trying to cover up the problem on Lampedusa before he arrived.
Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese last week announced a ferry would take migrants to Sicily three times a week, to ease the overcrowding.
“The island is collapsing – in the next few hours, before my visit tomorrow and Friday, will they try to hide their failures again?” Salvini asked.
When he was interior minister in 2019, Salvini blocked several charity rescue ships carrying migrants from disembarking in Italy, under his party’s “closed ports” policy.
The move saw him prosecuted in Sicily on charges of kidnapping and abuse of office, in an ongoing trial he has worn as a badge of honor.
But surveys suggest immigration is less of a concern for Italians than the rampant inflation squeezing already stagnant wages.
And Salvini’s League has in recent months been overtaken in the polls by Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, who have also called for migrants to be stopped at the Libyan coast.
Her post-fascist party is topping opinion polls ahead of the election, and looks set to enter government in an alliance with Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.