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italy immigration

U.S. Army photo by Elizabeth Fraser / Arlington National Cemetery /

The Italian Senate has voted to allow prosecutors to put far-right leader Matteo Salvini on trial over charges of holding immigrants at sea.

Matteo Salvini, who previously served as the country’s interior minister, is accused of illegally keeping people on a boat off Sicily for days in August 2019.

Some 116 migrants remained aboard the Gregoretti for close to a week.

On February 12, a majority of senators voted for the trial of Matteo Salvini to go ahead.

The anti-immigration League leader has repeatedly said he wants to go to court. He told the chamber he wanted “to tell the world” that his migration policies “saved tens of thousands of lives.”

He said: “I am absolutely calm and proud of what I have done. And I’ll do it again as soon as I get back into government.”

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Senators from his League party left the chamber rather than take part in the vote.

Under Italian law, ministers have parliamentary immunity for actions taken while they were in office. However, a committee voted last month to strip Matteo Salvini of his immunity – leaving the final decision in the hands of the Senate on February 12.

An official vote tally is expected by 19:00 local time. If successfully prosecuted at trial, Matteo Salvini could face up to 15 years in jail.

For years, some in Italy have complained that the country has taken in a large number of migrants fleeing across the Mediterranean, and has called for other EU nations to take their share.

Matteo Salvini in particular took a hard stance on migrant boats while he was in office, implementing a closed ports policy.

On July 25, 2019, Italian coastguard ship the Gregoretti picked up about 140 migrants trying to travel to Italy from Libya.

While the Gregoretti allowed several people off the ship for medical attention, some 116 people remained on board for days while Matteo Salvini demanded other EU countries take them in.

The decision drew an immediate backlash. Prosecutors opened an investigation into conditions aboard after reports that migrants only had one toilet between them.

After the Catholic Church and a number of states agreed to care for those on board, in a deal which then EU commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos helped to broker, Matteo Salvini eventually consented to let them dock on July 31.