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Salvini claims he is saving Europe from Islam, what are the facts?

Matteo Salvini speaks to M1 television
Matteo Salvini speaks to M1 television Copyright Screenshot, M1 television
Copyright Screenshot, M1 television
By Lillo Montalto MonellaSandrine Amiel
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While visiting Hungary on Thursday, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini from the far-right League party gave a controversial interview to the Hungarian national television. Euronews has fact-checked some of his contentious assertions.


While visiting Hungary on Thursday (May 2), Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini from the far-right League party gave a controversial interview to Hungarian national television.

Among other contentious assertions, Salvini said some European capitals were in the hands of Islamic minorities. "If we do not take back control of our roots, Europe will become an Islamic caliphate," the Italian leader said.

During the talk, Salvini accused left-wing governments of "transforming the Mediterranean into an open-air cemetery."

While emphasizing the importance of "environmental protection," Salvini merely defined it as "defending our agriculture and trade from the flow of goods and products from other countries".

Salvini was interviewed by journalist Balázs Bende.

The following day (May 3), Orban recorded his usual Friday interview on the radio and he said: "Hungary defeated immigration by land, Italy by sea. Salvini hammered a nail in the coffin of pro-immigration policies. Hungary joined with a smaller nail".

While a lot of Salvini's political rhetoric is unverifiable, Euronews has fact-checked his comments in collaboration with immigration experts where possible.

Migration to Italy reduced by 93%, says Salvini

Bende: "I am under the impression that leaders in Brussels are a bit afraid of you. You decided to stop migration by sea and you succeeded more or less. You have said you would change the European Union and find allies for that. They said it was impossible. But in recent weeks, you managed to find many allies**.** You want a full-fledged reform of the EU with new leaders. Are they afraid of you in Brussels?"

Salvini: "Yes, because Italy has finally raised its head. We were told that we could not change the pension law and we changed it; that we could not make a tax reform, and we did it; that we could not stop illegal immigration, and we have done it. To date, landings to Italy have been reduced by 93% and in Brussels, they were not used to this Italy [...]

The number of migrants arriving on Italian coasts over the last two years dropped drastically: -97.74% for 2018 compared to the same period during the previous year, and -91.12% for 2019 (data Viminale ).

Migration agreements with Libyan authorities date back to the previous Italian government: the number of arrivals is lower because the number of departures is lower.

But departures from Libya and Tunisia continue (841 arrivals this year). From Libya, it is almost impossible for migrants to go to Italy without the help of NGOs, because Italian ports are closed. The Libyan Coast Guards are well-known for bringing all intercepted migrants back to a country that is in a "worrying" situation, according to Salvini.

Almost 30% of the migrants are of Tunisian nationality: from Tunisia, they arrive in a few hours with fast motorboats, aren't intercepted and disperse immediately in so-called 'ghost landings.'

Hungary's barbed wires solved migration problem, says Salvini

Bende: "You are attacked constantly. Let me quote a headline regarding your visit to Budapest and leader of the Austrian Freedom Party Heinz Christian Strache's upcoming visit. A Hungarian website wrote that it was 'a monsters' ball. The dismantlers of Europe are meeting in Budapest.' How do you cope with these personal and political attacks?"

Salvini: "I am used to attacks from the left, from the left-wing press and television both in Italy and in Europe. They are afraid because we have focused on family, work, youth, environmental protection and security. [...] I saw first-hand how Hungary has protected the border with barbed wire hundreds of kilometres long, solving the problem. In Italy, the policy of blocking arrivals has halved the number of deaths and disappearances."

A fifth of irregular migrants to Europe arrive by land, passing through the so-called "Balkan route" (IOM)

When Orban finished building the anti-migrant barrier, the Greek route was almost completely closed. The March 2016 agreement between the EU and Turkey facilitated a reduction in migrant arrivals. The migrants do not arrive in Hungary because they are often blocked in Turkey or in Greece, where it is estimated that there are 60,000 migrants stationed in refugee camps and where incidents between law enforcement and those who hit the road to reach northern Europe are widespread (source Deutsche Welle) .

When migrants manage to go beyond Turkey and Greece, they face the barbed wire of Northern Macedonia or the harsh treatment of the Serbian, Bulgarian and Croatian authorities. The Hungarian barrier is clearly a deterrent, but only for the few people who manage to get there. Experts wonder if the barrier will still be sufficient should the Greek route re-open completely.

Salvini also claims that his policies halved the number of dead and missing, a statement contradicted by the data. In 2019, there were 257 dead or missing (as of April 30) out of 2,122 registered departures, with a mortality rate of 12%. In 2018 the mortality rate was at 3.5% and 2.6% in 2017. Source: IOM.

However, it is important to note that mortality figures might be underestimated due to insufficient monitoring, according to ISPI researcher Matteo Villa.

Security issues 'absolutely' linked to illegal migration, says Salvini

Bende: Is the issue of security linked to illegal migration?

Salvini: "Absolutely yes. By now it has been proved that delinquents and terrorists infiltrated the ships arriving in Italy, and then went on to commit massacres in other European countries. Our policy of blocking illegal immigration in Italy is at the service of all of Europe, France, Spain, Germany and Brussels. They give lessons but the serious policies of both Hungary and Italy save them."

One of the few documented cases is that of Anis Amri, the Tunisian perpetrator of the Berlin market attack. He arrived in Lampedusa from Tunisia in 2011 and spent several years in prison in Italy before his attempted deportation in 2015.

But his country did not recognize him as a Tunisian citizen - a very common case of non-cooperation which effectively blocks the deportation procedure. As local authorities urged him to leave Italy, he went to Germany in June 2015.

Experts we contacted say criminals do come but more from Tunisia than from Libya. There is no known case of a terrorist who has chosen to risk his life on a boat departing from Libya. Four of the Paris attackers in November 2015 arrived on the migrants route, but from Syria via Greece (see The Post) .

The cases, however, can be counted on the fingers of one hand compared to the 1.5 million migrants who have arrived from 2011 to the present.

As for the risk of radicalization, it is not something that can be quantified and therefore verified. The only certainty is that over 99.9% of migrants to Europe have never committed attacks.
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