Far-right Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has pledged to deliver on his campaign promise to deport half a million asylum seekers from the country.
Salvini declared on Friday that one of the new government’s top priorities would be to “send them home,” signaling to keep a campaign pledge which could result in some 500,000 undocumented refugees leaving Italy.
“Open doors in Italy for good people and a one-way ticket for those who come to Italy to create commotion and think they will be taken care of. ‘Send them home’ will be one of our top priorities,” he said.
Salvini also said he would seek to convert refugee reception centers into detention centers and use public funds for mass deportations.
The head of Italy’s far-right League, a nationalist party which is part of the ruling coalition, took the tough approach hours after the new government was approved by the Italian president, Sergio Mattarella.
New Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte was sworn in on Friday as the head of the first populist government in a European Union founding member. Conte’s government, which has been forged by the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the far-right League party, has raised concerns in some EU member states.
The 53-year-old is to lead a government that intends to cut taxes and boost welfare spending, while seeking to overhaul EU rules on immigration and budgets.
Europe has launched a string of schemes to tackle its worst refugee crisis since World War II. The continent has been hit since 2014 by an unprecedented influx of refugees who are fleeing conflict-ridden zones in North Africa and the Middle East, in particular Syria.
Many blame major European powers for the mass exodus, saying their interference has led to a surge in conflicts and terrorism in troubled regions, forcing people to flee their homes.
Some 700,000 refugees have landed in Italy over the past four years.
Libya has become a key departure point for asylum seekers trying to reach Europe by sea. Many refugees have crossed the Mediterranean to Italy over the past years, with human traffickers taking advantage of a security vacuum which ensued in Libya after the country’s longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi was ousted in a US-led invasion in 2011.
Thousands of other asylum seekers have perished in the Mediterranean.