09 July, 2019
The CARA Mineo, on the island of Sicily, was officially closed Tuesday. It was once Europe's largest holding area for asylum seekers and foreign migrants.
At one time, more than 4,100 people lived at the center. That was five years ago.
In March of 2018, when Italy's current government came to power, the number was down to about 2,500 people. The remaining occupants were moved to a camp in Calabria.
Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini praised the move to close the CARA Mineo. He said police investigators had discovered the activity of what he called "mafias, not only Italian but also Nigerian" based there.
After visiting the now empty camp, Salvini said that the local population would no longer have to fear criminal acts by migrants.
The number of migrants trying to get to Italy has been rising, and Salvini is feeling a lot of pressure. The government plans to spend more on its fight against foreigners unlawfully traveling to the country by boat.
Recently, an Italian police patrol boat rescued 47 boat migrants and brought them to land. A ship operated by a pro-immigrant group found another 44 people in the central Mediterranean. The group said the migrants would be sent to Malta.
In Italy, the number of immigrant arrivals had fallen over the past few months. But since warm weather arrived in June, the number has been rising.
The Reuters news agency reports that people-smugglers are increasingly leaving boats filled with migrants in international waters.
In the past, migrants pushed simple rubber dinghies into the sea from Libya's coast. It was relatively easy for the Libyan coast guard to stop them before they entered international waters.
Now, the Italians must stop the smugglers. In addition to helping the Libyan coast guard financially, Italy will also give them 10 motorboats. It also plans to increase the number of sea and air patrols that will try to find the smugglers before they reach international waters.
Salvini has built much of his political credibility on a promise to limit the number of immigrants coming to Italy. He also wrote to the Interior Minister of Tunisia, asking him to do more to prevent migrants from leaving the country.
Over the past 18 months, the largest number of migrants entering Italy have come from Tunisia. Before that, they came from African countries south of the Sahara Desert.
Tunisians top migrant list
Since the start of 2019, over 3,100 migrants have reached Italy. The most come from Tunisia, followed by Pakistan, Ivory Coast, Algeria, Iraq and Bangladesh.
More than two thirds of these have been rescued in coastal waters by the Italian navy and coastguard or have reached land directly.
Rescue ships operated by aid groups have sent nearly 300 migrants to Italy this year. That followed Salvini's effort to close the nation's ports to non-governmental organizations.
Two boats have disobeyed the ban in the past two weeks and brought migrants to the Italian island of Lampedusa. The German Sea-Watch 3 and Italian sailboat Alex have both been seized by the Italian government. Their owners face fines of about 50,000 euros.
Donations to the aid group Sea-Watch increased after this latest incident. One government official said an angry Salvini now wants to raise the fine to one million euros.
It was not clear if his party's coalition partner, the 5-Star Movement, would accept such a rise. Salvini said recently that 5-Star ministers were not helping enough to stop the migrants. The Interior Minister also said he felt "alone."
"Salvini feels alone? Then let's send him a teddy bear," 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio said on Monday.
I'm Susan Shand.
The Reuters News Agency reported this story. Susan Shand adapted the report for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
migrant – n. a person who goes from one place to another especially to find work
mafia – n. a secret criminal organization in Italy
patrol – n. a group of people, vehicles, etc., that go through an area to make sure that it is safe
smuggler – n. one who moves someone or something from one country into another illegally and secretly
dinghy – n. a small rubber boat
teddy bear – n. a soft toy bear