Rome ready to welcome Afghan refugees says mayor

Draghi hails 54 Italian soldiers killed in Afghanistan as 'heroes' amid political debate over refugees.

Rome mayor Virginia Raggi said on Tuesday that the city will makes its facilities available for Afghan "refugees, women, students, children and whoever is about to be repatriated" from Afghanistan following the fall of Kabul to the Taliban.

The mayor said she has written to foreign minister Luigi Di Maio to underline that her administration is ready to "support any efforts aimed at immediately establishing humanitarian corridors".

Describing the capital as "an open, welcoming city", Raggi wrote on Facebook: "Together with Italian and European institutions, and private associations, Rome can give support to those who are suffering."

"We cannot remain indifferent to all this" - said the mayor - "We have to do something, we have to act fast."

Milan

Raggi's counterpart in Milan, Beppe Sala, said his administration is "preparing at local level" to welcome refugees, pending instructions from the government.

In a Facebook post the Milan mayor said the city is coordinating with social services and making contact with the "NGOs operating in Milan which, in some cases, have direct experience in Afghanistan."

Florence

The mayor of Florence, Dario Nardella, also described his city as "open" and "ready to do its part," writing on Twitter: "We will welcome the women and refugees who manage to escape from Kabul and the violence of the Taliban."

Speaking on Italian television last night, prime minister Mario Draghi said that Italy is working with its European partners and fellow G20 member states to coordinate "complex" plans "to address two objectives: hospitality and security".

Draghi said that most of Italy's embassy staff in Kabul were airlifted to Rome on Monday but the work to repatriate diplomats, soldiers and Afghan collaborators continues.

He said that Italy still has military teams and some diplomats on the ground in Kabul where they are helping with the "evacuation efforts of other fellow citizens and Afghan collaborators and their families, when conditions allow."

"I want to thank all these people for the courage and dedication with which they carry out their task," said the premier.

Heroes

Draghi also paid tribute to the 54 soldiers that Italy has lost in Afghanistan over the course of the last 20 years, together with around 700 wounded.

"I want to say to their families that their sacrifice was not in vain, they defended the values for which they were sent, fundamental freedoms and women's rights, they carried out operations to prevent terrorism, they did good."

Draghi concluded by saying: "For me and for all Italians, they are heroes."

Political debate

The issue of welcoming Afghan refugees has sparked a political debate, with the leader of the centre-left Partito Democratico party Enrico Letta saying: "Italy can and must give a lot."

Matteo Salvini, leader of the right-wing Lega party, said that the "the flight from Afghanistan risks being a disaster" and "Italy cannot afford to welcome tens of thousands of people." 

Salvini said that Italy is obliged to welcome its Afghan collaborators, limiting this number to "a few dozen", but said the country "cannot take on a new wave of arrivals."

Photo Reuters