Italy’s hardline Interior Minister Matteo Salvini attended the closure on Tuesday and live-streamed his trip around the centre as he spoke to journalists.

“We’re saving quite a bit of money, we’re working to find new jobs for the centre’s ex-workers, but Sicily, Catania and Mineo cannot base their future on immigration,” he said.

Leader of the populist League party, Salvini has long opposed the Mineo centre, which housed 4100 migrants at its peak in 2014.

In 2017, he spent a night in the facility and claimed to have seen what he called “organised migration” designed to “replace Italian people with other people, Italian workers with other workers”.

He said the closure was “good news” for residents, citing the murder of an elderly couple in 2015 at the hands of an Ivorian teenager who had been residing in the camp.

Salvini told reporters on Tuesday that the future was in “smaller and more controlled centres”, after Mineo’s last residents were removed last week to be sent to another centre in Calabria.

Around 50 former employees at the centre and unionists protested on Tuesday before Salvini’s arrival, holding a banner that read: “Today we celebrate the funeral of Mineo.”

The centre employed 400 people in the area, and Mineo’s current mayor, Giuseppe Mistretta, has threatened to resign if the government doesn’t help with the post-closure transition.

“Mineo’s closure is the inexorable epilogue of a big illusion, in a region starved of jobs,” Sicily’s regional president, Nello Musumeci, said.

The decision to shut down Mineo came after the number of asylum seekers there declined from 2526 a year ago to 152, according to Italian news agency ANSA.

A former housing complex for the US military that resembles an American suburb, the reception centre is now guarded by Italian troops.