Published: Mon, June 11, 2018
Global News | By Stacy Ballard

Italy turns away ship carrying over 600 migrants

Italy turns away ship carrying over 600 migrants

Italy's new interior minister Matteo Salvini had threatened to close access to Italian ports for migrant rescue ships if Malta refused to take the migrants on board.

European charity SOS Mediterranee said on Twitter earlier on Sunday that its rescue boat Aquarius had taken on board 629 migrants, including 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 other children and seven pregnant women.

There is predictable outrage at the decision by Italy's new populist interior minister Matteo Salvini to shut the ports to NGO ships carrying migrants from North Africa, but truthfully no-one in Brussels, Berlin or Paris should be surprised it has come to this.

Sea-Watch said it requested help from the coastguard in Malta to send boats to aid the rescue mission but Malta refused.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Facebook that Spain's offer meant Italy was "no longer alone" and now it was time to make European Union asylum rules "more fair for everybody".

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SOS Mediterranee tweeted late Sunday that the Aquarius had received instructions from the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre to stand by in its current position 35 nautical miles from Italy and 27 nautical miles from Malta.

Valencia's mayor Joan Ribó described his town as a "refuge city" and said it would be "absolutely inhuman" to leave a ship adrift like the Aquarius was.

By law, it would be hard for Italy to refuse the boat a safe haven, as its own coastguard coordinated the rescues, picking up more than 280 migrants in its own vessels before transferring them to the Aquarius to be taken to safety.

After Spain announced it would accept the boat, Salvini declared "VICTORY" via Facebook, while Labour Minister Luigi Di Maio - who along with Salvini also serves as Italy's join deputy prime minister - called it a "turning point" that proved Italy is "no longer alone". Saving lives is a duty, transforming Italy in a refugee camp isn't.

The Maltese government insisted it was "acting in full conformity with its worldwide obligations".

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"Malta is neither the competent nor the coordinating authority in this case".

The closing of Italy's ports to Aquarius represented the first test of the populist government's rhetoric, and Italy stood firm, despite outcry from the European Union and the United Nations.

"Italy has stopped bowing its head and obeying, this time THERE ARE THOSE WHO SAY NO", he tweeted Monday.

Still, both Muscat and new Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte readily thanked Spain for the offer, with Conte saying "it goes in the direction of solidarity".

The number of people attempting to cross the Mediterranean from northern Africa or Turkey has fallen sharply, largely as a result of two controversial deals: one struck in March 2016 between the European Union and Turkey - under which Syrian refugees arriving in Greece from Turkey are sent back - and another made a year ago between Italy and Libya, in which the southern European country pledged to bolster Libya's coast guard so it could spot departing migrant boats and house migrants attempting to cross. "This time there's someone saying no".

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Global law says the decision on where a boat must dock depends on the country coordinating the search and rescue operation, but the law "does not say that it should be that country itself". Those incidents delayed the migrants' arrival, but they ultimately made it to Italy.

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