A Muslim mayor in the Italian seaside community of Monte Argentario has sparked political controversy for refusing to accept any refugees.
Centre-right mayor Arturo Cerulli has openly rejected growing political pressure for councils to do more to welcome the thousands of asylum seekers landing in Italy and help to ease the worsening refugee crisis.
“We don’t want refugees here, we don’t have the facilities for them,” Cerulli told The Local on Friday. “We don’t know where to put them, we don’t know what to do with them.”
Cerulli, 60, is a former nuclear engineer and aligned with the New Centre-Right party (NCD) of interior minister, Angelino Alfano.
During his engineering career he travelled extensively to countries including Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and the US, and is married to an Indonesian woman.
He converted to Islam 27 years ago but insists his refusal to welcome asylum seekers is unaffected by his religion.
“Religion has nothing to do with it,” Cerulli said. “I am speaking as the mayor, not as a global citizen. I have to take care of my area, my citizens. I would not know where to put refugees.
“If we accept six people, then they will send another six and then 20 more.”
Monte Argentario on the Tyrrhenian coast near Grosseto is a stunning peninsula that includes popular holiday resort towns of Porto Ercole and Porto Santo Stefano.
With its panoramic views across the Tuscan Archipelago, the peninsula is popular with foreign and Italian holidaymakers and the population swells from 13,000 to more than 30,000 in the summer months.
“Here it’s full of the ‘radical chic’, left-wing intellectuals,” Cerulli said. “Let them open up their beautiful villas and welcome them if they think it’s better.”
Cerulli has recently come under attack from centre-left regional politician Leonardo Marras who accused the mayor of failing to respect the principles of his Islamic faith.
“Muslims like all the faithful believe in hospitality as a model of human relations,” Marras said in an open letter published in several Italian newspapers in August.
“Is your refusal based on objective reasons or prejudice?”
In July, Enrico Rossi, the President of the Tuscany region and Sara Biagiotti, head of the National Association of Italian Municipalities (Anci) wrote to 146 local mayors urging them to welcome more immigrants.
“Rossi continues to send circulars demanding all the councils do their part,” Cerulli added. “And what if I am opposed to that? What’s he going to do, treat me badly?”
He told The Local it was up to the national government to resolve the crisis instead of transferring the problem to local councils and individual mayors.
According to the latest figures, more than 100,000 immigrants have arrived in Italy in 2015.