The leader of Italy's anti-immigrant Northern League party Matteo Salvini on Thursday called for charity rescue boats allegedly being used as "migrant taxis" in the Mediterranean to be sunk.
"Let's help Africa's growth, not bring it to Italy. We need to arrest the traffickers and sink all the boats being used," Salvini wrote on Facebook.
Populist politicians in Italy have raised an outcry about they have dubbed NGO "taxi services" after the Sicilian port city of Catania's prosecutor, Carmelo Zuccaro, said he suspected there may be direct communication between Libya-based smugglers and members of charity-operated rescue vessels.
Zuccaro was quoted as saying in an interview with La Stampa newspaper on Sunday that a probe by his office has revealed "evidence that there are direct contacts between some NGOs and human traffickers in Libya."
Zuccaro said NGOs are blocking efforts to fight people smuggling because it is so easy for the migrant boats to cross the 12 nautical miles and reach charity vessels waiting just beyond Libyan territorial waters.
NGOs have made 50 percent of this year's rescues amid a surge of arrivals, up from 30 percent in 2016, Zuccaro said.
Charities including Amnesty and Sos Mediterranee question the alleged collusion between NGOs and people smugglers and have demanded to see proof.