Salvini, who has spearheaded the country’s hardline approach to immigration, met the group of refugees and asylum seekers, mostly families or women with children, on the tarmac at a military airport near Rome. 

“For women and children in difficulty, the only way to arrive is by plane, not by inflatable dinghy, because the dinghies are operated by criminals who in exchange for trafficking in human beings, buy weapons,” he said.

“This is a demonstration that Italy is a welcoming, generous and supportive country, where I have been entrusted with the duty of bringing back some rules and order.”

The group, who were among more than 2,300 vulnerable people who have been evacuated from Libya via Niger by the UNHCR since December, will be placed among host families in Italy by a Catholic association.

Leader of the far-right League, which formed a coalition government with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), Salvini has vowed to stop migrant arrivals and close Italian ports to rescue ships.

Salvini also supports a deal between Italy and Libya, signed by the previous government, under which the Libyan coast guard intercepts migrants and returns them to the war-torn country.

In return, Italy is developing initiatives to legally accept people stranded in Libya, where thousands of migrants are faced with arbitrary detention, extortion and violence.

On Tuesday, Italian police bulldozed a symbolic makeshift camp in Rome, where around 100 migrants had been living after leaving Italy’s reception system.

The camp housed tens of thousands of migrants during their journeys to northern Italy and the rest of Europe.

“Stateless, lawless no-man’s lands will no longer be tolerated,” Salvini declared.

People wheeled away their possessions in shopping trolleys and hugged each other as tents were uprooted.