Italian deputy prime minister who is also labour and economy minister, Luigi di Maio, has accused France of fuelling migration by continuously colonizing dozens of African countries leaving them impoverished.

He made the remark during a visit to central Italy at the weekend after France criticised Italy for not allowing rescue boats carrying migrants in the Mediterranean to dock following the United Nation’s claim that about 170 migrants were feared drowned in two separate Mediterranean shipwrecks.

“The EU should impose sanctions on France and all countries like France that impoverish Africa and make these people leave, because Africans should be in Africa, not at the bottom of the Mediterranean,” he was quoted by the BBC.

“If people are leaving today it’s because European countries, France above all, have never stopped colonising dozens of African countries,” added the leader of the Five Star Movement (M5S) which is a member of the right-wing ruling coalition that has been described as racist for its strong stance against migrants.

Di Maio’s statement angered France which summoned the Italian ambassador to France, Teresa Castaldo, to the foreign ministry in Paris on Monday.

Di Maio reiterated his statement on Monday following the summoning by saying France would be a failed economy if not for Africa’s help. He also supported the yellow vest protesters in France urging them not to give up, reports BBC.

“France is one of those countries that by printing money for 14 African states prevents their economic development and contributes to the fact that the refugees leave and then die in the sea or arrive on our coasts … If Europe wants to be brave, it must have the courage to confront the issue of decolonisation in Africa,” he said.

Di Maio’s remark follows the strong statements of his colleague deputy prime minister and interior minister, Matteo Salvini, who has in the past referred to African migrant workers in Italy as slaves.

Salvini, who heads the Italian League party that holds a tough stance against immigration, made the racist remark in September 2018, in response to a public statement implying that Italy needed immigrants because the population was ageing.

Last year, Salvini filed a defamation suit against the country’s first black cabinet minister of Congolese descent for calling his far-right party “racist” in 2014.

Cécile Kyenge will face trial in the northern city of Piacenza over comments made in an interview during a social democratic event when she reacted to a photograph posted on social media by Roberto Calderoli, a former senator of the far-right League party depicting her as an orangutan.

The ridiculous lawsuit follows her 2017 victory in a four-year legal battle against an Italian member of the European Parliament, Mario Borghezio who was found guilty of defamation and racial hatred during a radio interview in 2013.

Since the far-right coalition party’s assumption of office in June 2018, racist attacks, especially against African migrant workers, have gone up.

In an attack on June 11, 2018, two Malian refugees who were living in a migrant centre near Caserta, a city north of Naples, were shot from a vehicle by supporters of Matteo Salvini who had shouted slogans in support of him, they told local media.

In August 2018, 32-year-old Senegalese street vendor Cisse Elhadji Diebel was shot three times in Naples by two strangers on a scooter by the central train station. According to Italian weekly L’Espresso, at least 33 attacks were perpetrated across the country in the past two months.

Italians are quick to dismiss racist attacks against African migrants and the police do not ensure justice despite protests regularly sparked by attacks.

Matteo Salvini is behind the blocking of a humanitarian rescue boat carrying 60 migrants rescued off Libya in July 2018. He stated clearly that they were not welcome.

Italy is one of the biggest recipients of migrants arriving in Europe mainly from Africa.