Italy thanks Libya coast guard for migrant rescue
Matteo Salvini, Italy's hardline interior minister, thanked Libya's coast guard for picking up more than 800 migrants in the Mediterranean as he flew to Tripoli for the first time to discuss the migration crisis.
The migrants were returned to Libya after Italy's new populist government prevented humanitarian organisations rescuing them.
"I thank from the bottom of my heart, as a minister and as a father, the Libyan coast guard for having saved and taken back 820 migrants, rendering in vain the work of traffickers," Mr Salvini said.
However, humanitarian groups condemned the move, saying migrants would be returned to horrific conditions in squalid camps run by Libyan militia and smugglers.
Mr Salvini, who has struck a stridently anti-migrant tone since taking office earlier this month, flew to Libya to cement ties with the internationally recognised government in Tripoli.
In a tweet, he said he had proposed the setting up of migrant processing centres on Libya's southern borders, to stop migrants from creating a "bottleneck" along the coast.
While Mr Salvini's threats to expel half-a-million unauthorised migrants from Italy and to hold a census of Roma gypsies has earned accusations of intolerance and racism, they have chimed with many Italians.
His party, the hard-right League, performed strongly in local elections on Sunday.