Italy’s Salvini Tells Richard Gere to Take Stranded Migrants to Hollywood on his Jet
(Bloomberg) -- Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini suggested Richard Gere fly 160 migrants stranded off the Italian coast back to Hollywood on his “private jet” after the actor made a plea to European leaders to find a port for the ship.
Gere joined representatives from the non-governmental organization Open Arms at a press conference on the Italian island of Lampedusa to appeal to take in the ship. Salvini has refused to allow the vessel into Italian waters, the latest episode highlighting Europe’s divisions over immigration.
“As the generous millionaire airs his demands about the fate of the Open Arms immigrants, we thank him: he will be able to bring everyone in his private jet to Hollywood and keep them in his villas,” Salvini said in a statement after Gere’s press conference.
Salvini has made a flagship policy of refusing to allow the migrant vessels, coming mostly from nearby North Africa, to enter Italian waters. Now in the first steps of a months-long electoral campaign, Salvini is likely to double down on the anti-immigrant rhetoric that’s made him Italy’s most popular politician for now.
The migrants were rescued in international waters and have a right to safe harbor and to apply for asylum in Europe, Oscar Camps, founder of the Open Arms movement, said at the news conference. The vessel is floating in international waters near the island, which is located about half-way between Tunisia and the southern Italian coast.
Gere, 69, who went aboard the Open Arms vessel on Friday to deliver food and water, sat nearby and also called on European leaders to find a solution. The star of “American Gigolo” and “Pretty Woman” has a long history of social activism.
“The most important thing,” Gere said aboard the vessel, is for the rescued migrants “to be able to get to a free port, to be able to get off the boats and get on land and start a new life.”
Malta has said it will accept 39 of the migrants, who were rescued Friday, but other European governments have refused to allow the rest to disembark, Camps said on Twitter.
Salvini has dubbed the request to disembark a “provocation” that disregards the lives of the migrants and called on Spain, the country where the boat is registered, to take them in. Spanish authorities have refused, insisting it must disembark at the nearest port.
Responding to Gere’s comments, Salvini said, “surely, he is impressed by the decisions that have been taken to bolster police and counter smugglers and criminals. Italy had been waiting for those measures for years.”
Speaking on the island on Saturday, Camps said: “No decree or fine will stop us from protecting people at sea.”
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