**Rome: ** Former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi came under fire from Leftist Opposition parties after he suggested Italy cap the number of asylum seekers it takes in, the media reported.
Critics charged Renzi — who is the leader of the ruling centre-left Democratic Party and its candidate for the premier’s post — is courting rightwing voters ahead of the next national election, due in spring 2018, Xinhua news agency reported on Saturday.
Italy’s current policy is to take in tens of thousands of people fleeing war and famine in Africa and the Middle East, after they get rescued off unseaworthy boats along the so-called Central Mediterranean route from Libya to Sicily.
“Cap on migrant numbers. Renzi under fire: he’s like Salvini,” La Stampa national daily titled in reference to comments that Renzi is chasing supporters of Matteo Salvini, the leader of the right wing, anti-immigrant Northern League party.
Salvini’s party made strong gains in local elections across Italy last month, which saw the Democratic Party lose key strongholds.
“Let’s help migrants in their own homes. Controversy over Renzi’s phrase, which resembles a League slogan,” wrote La Repubblica daily paper.
“Let’s help migrants in their own homes, Renzi’s new slogan sets internet alight,” Corriere della Sera daily similarly titled.
“Renzi chases the right on xenophobic grounds in hopes of picking up votes,” Senator Loredana De Petris from the small opposition Italian Left (SI) party tweeted on Friday.
Italy has no moral duty to take everyone in, but it does have a moral duty to help those in need in their own countries, Renzi added. “Clearly we need to establish a cap on migrants, a closed number,” the former premier said, adding that the responsibility for taking asylum seekers in must be spread out equally with other European countries.
“An excess of immigration doesn’t do anyone any good,” Renzi wrote.
On Thursday, the former premier also suggested Italy should withhold EU payments if partner countries don’t do their part on migrants.
“Let us cut financing to countries who don’t respect accords on migrants. They shut down European ports? We block European funds,” Renzi tweeted on July 6.
Renzi’s article was an excerpt from his book Avanti! (Italian for Forward!), due out next week.