Matteo Salvini told the lower house of parliament on Wednesday that the migrants onboard the Sea-Watch ship would have been allowed to disembark anyway soon after captain Carola Rackete defied Italian orders to stay away. The comments were met with incredulity by lawmaker Nicola Fratoianni, who was among parliamentarians on board the Sea-Watch saying there was no sign of movement from the government.
Rackete was arrested for defying orders not to enter Italian waters, not to approach shore and finally not to dock the ship during a two-week standoff with Italian authorities. She cited the safety of the 40 migrants onboard for her actions. She is under investigation but not in custody.
Humanitarian groups that have operated rescue ships in the Mediterranean are disputing the Italian interior minister's narrative that their presence encourages smugglers to send migrants on boats from Libya.
The spokesman for Doctors Without Borders in Italy, Marco Bertotto, said at a news conference on Wednesday that only one out of every six smugglers' boats that departed Libya during the first six months of the year was met by a humanitarian rescue ship.
Bertotto said "this should put a tombstone on the fantastical and false narrative of the attraction effect created by the NGOs."
He says there have been 20 standoffs between private aid ships carrying rescued migrants and European governments that refused to provide immediate safe harbor since Italy's populist government took office last year.
Bertotto says the stalemates involved 2,500 people kept at sea for a total of 165 days.