Italy’s hardline Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has called for the formation of a Europe-wide alliance of like-minded far-right parties to “defend their borders” against an influx of refugees into the continent.
According to reports, speaking at the annual gathering of his far-right League Party north of Milan on Sunday, Salvini spoke of a united Europe against “mass immigration.”
“I am thinking about a League of the Leagues of Europe, bringing together all the free and sovereign movements that want to defend their people and their borders,” he said.
“To win we had to unite Italy, now we will have to unite Europe,” Salvini said, referring to his party’s alliance with other far-right European groups.
He told some 50,000 people, who attended the rally from around Italy, that he seeks to turn next year’s European Parliament elections into a referendum on “a Europe without borders … and a Europe that protects its citizens.”
The interior minister has taken a tough stance on refugees since taking office on June 1. The one-month-old coalition government in Italy has been cracking down on humanitarian groups that rescue refugees in the Mediterranean Sea and then ferry the asylum seekers to the country’s ports.
On Friday, Salvini declared that the country’s ports would be closed “all summer” to charity ships which rescue refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean from Africa to the European Union.
“The NGOs will only see Italy on a postcard,” he said. “The decision to open or close ports is taken by the interior minister.”
In addition to closing the country’s ports, Salvini has formerly pledged to speed up refugee deportations.
He also hailed an agreement reached by European Union leaders in Brussels on Friday to share out the refugees arriving in the continent. Rights groups, however, criticize the agreement as a potential threat to human rights.
Over the past five years, more than 600,000 refugees have reached Italy by risking their lives in the sea. Some 500,000 of them are still staying in the country.