Recently the Italian government caused an international controversy when they turned away a ship carrying 121 African migrants. Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini denied permission for the ship to dock in in the port of Lampedusa. Italy, like many other European nations (and our own), has been struggling with the strain of accepting poor migrants as they deal with their own spending and welfare issues.
The unemployment rate in Italy has been slowly dropping over the last five years but still hovers around ten percent, causing tension between typically drastically underpaid migrant workers and unemployed Italian natives. Salvini has been controversial but celebrated as a “hardliner” when it comes to migrant/immigration issues.
Actor Richard Gere flew to be with the migrants – now being housed on the Spanish charity ship Open Arms until they find a way to dock – and show his support. He asked the Italian government to stop “demonizing people” and compared the situation to the immigration battle here in America.
Gere, who visited the Open Arms ship in a show of support on Friday, joined a news conference on the Italian island of Lampedusa to call for the 160 migrants stuck on the boat to be allowed to disembark.
He compared the political situation in Italy, where League leader and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has repeatedly refused requests by migrant ships to dock, to that of the U.S. administration of Donald Trump.
“We have our problems with refugees coming from Honduras, Salavador, Nicaragua, Mexico… It’s very similar to what you are going through here,” he said, accusing politicians in both Italy and the United States of demonising migrants.
“This has to stop everywhere on this planet now. And it will stop if we say stop,” he said, adding that he only wanted to help people and not get into a political fight.
Salvini wasted no time in pointing out Gere’s hypocrisy.
“Given this generous millionaire is voicing concern for the fate of the Open Arms migrants, we thank him: he can take back to Hollywood, on his private plane, all the people aboard and support them in his villas. Thank you Richard!”
More and more European nations are becoming averse to accepting new immigrants.
Standoffs with non-governmental organisation boats have become common in the last year as European states at odds over who should be responsible for accepting migrants have refused port to vessels carrying rescued people, often leaving them stranded at sea for days awaiting a solution.
The Open Arms said it had rescued more people on Saturday.
The boat was at sea near Lampedusa with 121 people aboard from earlier rescues when, late on Friday evening, Maltese authorities asked it to assist 39 people in a wooden raft.
Malta had offered to accept the 39 people from this rescue but not the 121 already aboard, among them 32 minors, they added, saying the NGO had refused the offer.
“[Malta] has refused to disembark the other 121 people who have been aboard for 9 days. This has created a serious security problem aboard. Their levels of anxiety are unsustainable,” Open Arms founder Oscar Camps said on Twitter.
The boat has been in limbo since Malta and Italy rejected requests to disembark there. Spain’s Socialist government accepted the Acquarius NGO boat last year following a similar standoff but has since hardened its position, saying that the Open Arms should look for a closer port.
Representatives for Open Arms have indicated that if a medical emergency were to break out on the ship, they would be allowed to dock under international maritime law.
So far there is no word whether or not Richard Gere intends to invite any migrants to work for him or to stay in his homes.