Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini on Saturday issued a harsh response after Richard Gere’s criticized his country’s handling of a migrant crisis.
The Hollywood actor, 69, last week took a break from his vacation in Sicily to visit some of the 121 migrants on board a Spanish NGO ship that rescued them from the Mediterranean Sea. The Proactiva Open Arms has been docked off the Italian island of Lampedusa, Sicily, for 11 days due to Italy’s ban on landing migrants.
In a video message from the deck of the ship, Gere urged viewers to support the charity and the migrants, who he said are really refugees.
“I already came to Lampedusa two or three years ago, to visit the migrants hotspot, so I knew the situation first-hand,” he said. “They are people who have lived horrible stories, they have suffered a lot, they call them migrants but they are refugees who need help.”
Gere, a longtime human rights activist and vocal critic of President Donald Trump, also compared Italy’s response to the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean to the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“We have our problems with refugees coming from Honduras, Salvador, Nicaragua, Mexico … It’s very similar to what you are going through here,” he said.
“This has to stop everywhere on this planet now. And it will stop if we say so.”
— Open Arms (@openarms_fund) August 9, 2019
Matteo Salvini flips it on Richard Gere
Salvini, who last year decreed Italy’s ports closed to migrant rescue ships, replied sarcastically to Gere: “Given this generous millionaire is voicing concern for the fate of the Open Arms migrants, we thank him.”
“He can take all the people aboard back to Hollywood, on his private plane and support them in his villas,” he said. “Thank you, Richard!”
A new bill drafted by Salvini, who is also the interior minister in Italy’s right-wing government, would fine rescue boats bringing migrants to Italy without permission up to 50,000 euros, or $57,000. With the European Union’s backing, Italy in 2017 struck a deal with Libyan authorities to turn back boats leaving from Libya and return migrants to detention centers.
Meanwhile, another rescue ship, the Norwegian flagged-Ocean Viking, on Sunday rescued 81 migrants from the sea. Operated by Doctors Without Borders and SOS Méditerranée, the Ocean Viking now holds some 220 migrants rescued in three missions. Like the Proactiva Open, it has been refused entry by Italy and Malta.
Thanks largely Italy’s hardline approach to immigration, the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean has declined this year. Still, the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration has confirmed nearly 700 deaths on the voyage this year.