Europe’s once biggest migrant centre closed

Mineo, Italy: What was once Europe’s biggest migrant reception centre, in Mineo in Sicily, officially closed on Tuesday in the presence of its biggest critic, far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini.
“We’re saving quite a bit of money, we’re working to find new jobs for the centre’s ex-workers, but Sicily, Catania and Mineo cannot base their future on immigration,” Salvini said as he shut the centre.
Salvini said the future was “in smaller and more controlled centres”, after the final inhabitants were removed last week to be sent to another centre in Calabria.
About 50 former workers at the centre and unionists protested ahead of Salvini’s arrival, handing a protest banner reading “today we celebrate the funeral of Mineo”.
The reception centre, a former housing complex for the US military that resembles an American suburb, is now guarded by Italian troops blocking access. At its peak in 2014, Mineo housed more than 4,100 people.
Its population then steadily dropped and when anti-migrant Salvini and the populist Five Star Movement came to power in June last year, it housed 2,500.
Since then Salvini, who is also deputy prime minister, has declared war on charity rescue vessels, barring them entry to Italian ports. “It wasn’t a reception centre built on integration but on numbers.”
The centre’s 400 small yellow and pink houses lie in tidy rows, a reminder of the time when US families from the neighbouring base at Sigonella called it home.
But the US military gave up its lease in 2010. — AFP