Published: Thu, June 14, 2018
Global News | By Stacy Ballard

Italy Sends Migrant Convoy To Spain, Has Words With France

Italy Sends Migrant Convoy To Spain, Has Words With France

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.

The charity said the group of mainly sub-Saharan Africans were picked up in six different rescue operations off the coast of Libya and included hundreds who were plucked from the sea by Italian naval units and then transferred to the Aquarius.

The Aquarius, a former North Atlantic fisheries protection ship now used by humanitarian groups SOS Mediterranee and Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders), is seen in December 2017 during a rescue operation in the Mediterranean Sea.

Following up on his campaign promises, the new Italian interior minister and deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, leader of the right-wing League party, said the ship would not be allowed to dock in Italy and suggested that as it was closer to Malta, it should dock there.

Corsican leaders Gilles Simeoni and Jean-Guy Talamoni, the top politicians on the French Mediterranean island, tweeted an offer on Tuesday morning as uncertainty grew over the fate of the people on board.

Aid workers had also warned that food and drink supplied by the Maltese navy to the migrants would only last until Tuesday.

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To resolve the problem, two Italian boats moved alongside the Aquarius on Tuesday to share out the migrants before heading west through what are forecast to be stormy seas. On Monday new president of Spanish Government, socialist Pedro Sanchez, offered option Valencia.

"MSF calls for people's safety to come before politics".

The Aquarius is one of few NGO boats left in central Mediterranean, where so far this year have drowned 784 migrants, according to recount United Nations agency for Refugees.

But Malta and Italy - whose new populist government has vowed a tough new stance on immigration - have both refused to take the migrants in, triggering concern in the worldwide community about their plight.

A Maltese government spokesman told AFP that the rescue of the migrants took place in the Libyan search and rescue area and was headed up by the rescue coordination centre in Rome, meaning Malta has no legal obligation to take in the migrants.

In a Facebook post dated April 21 past year, M5S leader Luigi Di Maio called boats carrying stranded migrants to Italy a "sea taxi", claiming they were conducting services they said were charitable in exchange for money.

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"This plan would mean already exhausted rescued people would endure 4 more days travel at sea", Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said on Twitter.

Malta's ports will not take in the Acquarius vessel with hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers on board, which has been stranded in the Mediterranean after the Italian authorities had refused to accept it. Salvini had earlier issued a joint statement with Italian Transportation Minister Danilo Toninelli of the 5-Star Movement, saying Malta "cannot continue to look the other way when it comes to respecting precise global conventions on the protection of human life".

Italy's government is led by two populist parties tied together, in part, by hostility toward migrants and a desire for a tougher stance on immigration.

Salvini has repeatedly accused charities of working with human traffickers but said Italy would not stop rescuing migrant boats itself. All passengers were offloaded to the Aquarius to be taken to land.

Spanish journalists on board the rescue vessel have reported the increasingly desperate plight of the migrants over the past 24 hours.

European Union leaders in December set an end-June deadline for an overhaul of rules to create a permanent mechanism to deal with migrants.

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