Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini suggested Richard Gere fly 160 migrants stranded off the Italian coast back to Hollywood on his “private jet” after the actor made a plea to European leaders to find a port for the ship.
Gere joined representatives from the non-governmental organization Open Arms at a press conference on the Italian island of Lampedusa to appeal to take in the ship. Salvini has refused to allow the vessel into Italian waters, the latest episode highlighting Europe’s divisions over immigration.
“As the generous millionaire airs his demands about the fate of the Open Arms immigrants, we thank him: he will be able to bring everyone in his private jet to Hollywood and keep them in his villas,” Salvini said in a statement after Gere’s press conference.
Salvini has made a flagship policy of refusing to allow the migrant vessels, coming mostly from nearby North Africa, to enter Italian waters. Now in the first steps of a months-long electoral campaign, Salvini is likely to double down on the anti-immigrant rhetoric that’s made him Italy’s most popular politician for now.