Rome, July 18 (IANS/AKI) Charity ships that rescue migrants in the Mediterranean are giving Islamic extremists a greater chance of slipping into Europe, Italy’s Interior Minister Marco Minniti said on Tuesday.
“NGOs consider it their priority to save people at sea rather than guaranteeing the national security of the country that takes in the migrants,” Minniti told Italian daily Il Foglio in an interview.
Previously, when all Mediterranean rescue operations were being carried out by Navy vessels, the proportion of suspected extremists among the migrants was “inevitably low”, Minniti stated.
“Whoever sought to target our national security would think twice before boarding a migrant boat that would be rescued by Navy ships,” Minniti said.
But private charity ships are now carrying out over one-third of Mediterranean migrant rescue operations, against 28 percent by the Italian Coastguard, 11 percent by the European Union borders agency Frontex and 9 percent by the EU’s Sofia anti-smuggling operation, he said.
A total 34 percent of rescue operations in the Mediterranean were carried out by NGOs and private rescue teams in the first four months of this year.
Critics allege the charity rescue ships were fuelling illegal immigration and some claim they were in cahoots with trafficking gangs.
Islamic extremists were also stealing into Italy aboard the packed migrants boats, some rightwing politicians and observers have claimed.
More than 85,000 refugees and migrants have reached Italy by boat so far this year, Interior Ministry figures showed last week, while over 2,000 have perished in the Mediterranean, according to data from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).