Rome, Nov 15 Italy will only allow refugees and asylum seekers to enter Italy by plane, not on human trafficking boats, Italy's anti-migrant Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has said.
"The only way to arrive... is by plane. Not aboard the people smugglers' boats which are operated by criminals who buy arms and drugs with their human trafficking revenues," Salvini told reporters on Wednesday.
He spoke to the press at Pratica di Mare airport south of Rome where he greeted 51 refugees and asylum-seekers who arrived from Niger on Wednesday after they were held in detention centres in Libya and screened for international protection by the UN refugee agency UNHCR.
Refugees and asylum seekers need not fear Italy's contested security and immigration decree, which toughens the rules for migrants, Salvini stated.
"It doesn't change anything, whoever is granted international protection will be welcomed as they have been until now," he said.
"I wish these kids the brightest future," he said, adding that he wanted to see fewer and fewer people forced to resort to human traffickers to escape conflicts in their homelands.
The 51 refugees and asylum-seekers who arrived in Italy on Wednesday include three men and many mothers and children, mainly from Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan who will be sheltered in community homes across Italy run by a Catholic charity.
Future humanitarian flights bringing refugees and asylum seekers to Italy will follow, Salvini said.