Mayor of Lampedusa Salvatore Martello has likened Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz to a “neo-Nazi” after Kurz suggested that migrants should be kept on Italian islands rather than allowed to move north.
Mr Kurz made the comments in a meeting alongside his Italian counterpart Angelino Alfano, saying that immigrants who arrived in Italy illegally should not be taken to the Italian mainland, but rather kept on the islands where they first arrive.
Mayor Martello said, “I would have expected such a statement from a neo-Nazi, not from a representative of an EU country. Obviously, he does not know how big Lampedusa is,” Austrian newspaper Kronen Zeitung reports.
“From Kurz’s words, I understand that he does not know how landings of refugee ships are taking place and how migrants in Lampedusa are treated and does not know what the island and its inhabitants are doing to provide for the migrants,” Martello said.
Italian Socialist politician Gianni Pittella, who heads the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament, also hit out at Kurz, writing: “Austrian Foreign Minister Kurz wants to turn Lampedusa into an internment camp for migrants. This is not the Europe we stand for!”
Austrian Foreign Minister Kurz wants to turn Lampedusa into a internment camp for migrants. This is not the Europe we stand for!
— Gianni Pittella (@giannipittella) July 20, 2017
Mr Kurz has been a vocal critic of the European Union’s policy regarding migrants in the Mediterranean.
On Thursday at the meeting with the Italian Foreign Minister, he said: “When people are brought to the mainland as quickly as possible after the rescue and then move northwards, the challenge for Central Europe is not only increasing, but the result is that more and more of the smugglers are on the way, they earn more, and more and more refugees and migrants are drowned.”
The row is the latest between the two countries over the migrant crisis. In the past week, the Austrians have threatened to secure their border with Italy using military personnel, due to the recent rise in migrant numbers.
Kurz, who is also the leader of the conservative Austrian People’s Party, has advocated in the past that migrants should be held on islands while their asylum claims are being processed.
Italy, meanwhile, has complained that the European Union hasn’t done enough to relieve the pressure of mass migration, which is stretching the country’s resources. The Italians recently floated the idea of giving 200,000 migrants emergency visas which would allow them to head north into countries like Germany, France and Sweden.