Elsewhere in the country, however, corruptions investigations have revealed some local officials gleefully see a cash cow in the shelters.
After nearly 3,500 migrants were rescued in a single day on Saturday by an array of European military vessels, well over 1,000 more were being plucked to safety from at least 14 boats that ran into difficulty yesterday shortly after smugglers set off with them from Libyan shores, said a UN refugee agency official, Federico Fossi. Two German military ships brought a total of some 1,400 people to Sicilian ports yesterday, a day after they were rescued.
Mayors of Sicilian and other southern towns have warned for months they’ve run out of room for migrants, and thousands of the rescued are being resettled in shelters in central and northern Italy while their asylum requests are processed. The migrants flee poverty, persecution and war in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
Among the north-based Italian politicians refusing to accept more migrants was newly elected Liguria governor Giovanni Toti. Toti’s candidacy was backed by his mentor, former center-right premier Silvio Berlusconi, and by the anti-immigrant Northern League party, which was bolstered by results in balloting for governorships a week ago.
In Lombardy, whose capital is Milan, Italy’s financial centre, longtime League leader, governor Roberto Maroni, asked followers on Twitter if they agreed with him that “Lombardy mayors must refuse to welcome clandestine migrants” sent by the national government or else face regional funding cuts as punishment.
Fueling pledges to welcome no more migrants in their regions was a warning at the weekend from Britain’s defence secretary, Michael Fallon, that hundreds of thousands of migrants might be in Libya, poised to attempt the perilous sea crossing over the summer months.
Another UN refugee agency official, Carlotta Sami, called such figures speculation. But Northern League leader Matteo Salvini cited the huge figure when he spoke about “an alarm” of a flood of migrants.
Also pledging his region won’t accept more rescued migrants was Veneto governor Luca Zaia, a Northern League proponent who scored a resounding victory for a second term in the May 31 vote.
“First of all, we must do away with the illusion that we can support and manage a biblical exodus,” he said in an interview in Corriere della Sera daily.
Zaia contended his northeastern Veneto region, home to many family-run or medium-sized businesses, had no more room for migrants.
According to Interior Ministry figures, as of early May, Veneto was sheltering some 3,000 rescued migrants, or 4% of the national total.
By comparison, Sicily, where unemployment is chronic, was sheltering 16,000 migrants, or 22% of the total, while the more affluent region of Lazio, including Rome, had about half that number, at 12%, and Maroni’s Lombardy had some 6,600, or 9% of the total.