Published: Tue, June 12, 2018
Global | By Craig Ferguson

Spain offers to take in drifting migrant ship Aquarius

Spain offers to take in drifting migrant ship Aquarius

Italy will refuse to let a humanitarian ship carrying more than 600 migrants dock at its ports and has asked the Mediterranean island of Malta to open its doors to the vessel, government officials said on Sunday.

In this photo taken on May 6, 2018 the French NGO's ship Aquarius, a search and rescue ship run in partnership between "SOS Mediterranee" and Doctors without borders (MSF), is seen some 24 nautical miles off the Libyan coast.

Matteo Salvini, Italy's Interior Minister and Northern League party leader made a decision to refuse docking to "Aquarius" and redirect the vessel to the Island of Malta, apparently in line with his election promises.

The ship had sailed north toward Italy but Matteo Salvini, the head of the far-right League party who became interior minister this month vowing to curb an influx of migrants from Africa, blocked it and said it should go to Malta instead.

"In the Mediterranean.there's Malta that does now welcome anyone, there is France that rejects [refugees] at its borders, there's Spain that defends its borders with the arms".

On Sunday, Salvini said Italy was saying "no to human trafficking, no to the business of illegal immigration". "The island can not continue looking the other way when it comes to respecting global conventions", read the Italian government's statement signed by Salvini and Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli.

Italy's new populist government has delivered a jolt to European migration politics, prompting a diplomatic standoff with its refusal to accept a rescue vessel overloaded with migrants.

The number of migrants arriving in Spain has been on the rise, Benavides reports, while the number of sea arrivals in Italy "has dropped 77 percent compared to this time a year ago, following controversial deals with the Libyan Coast Guard and investigations into NGO search-and-rescues".

Italy's new interior minister has refused permission for a rescue vessel to drop off more than 600 migrants picked up off Libya's coast.

SOS Mediterranee, the charity co-operating the migrant ship, said it was awaiting instructions about where to disembark from Italy's coastguard, which coordinated the sea rescues.

Both the Mayor of Barcelona and the Mayor of Valencia offered their cities to take in the ship, with the latter being the end destination for the Aquarius' 1,300 km route.

Days after assuming office, Mr Salvini issued a warning to people smugglers in a statement that drew direct comparisons with former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott's "stop the boats" rhetoric.

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte said on Facebook that he had called on his Maltese counterpart, Joseph Muscat, to "explicitly at least take on the human assistance of persons in difficulty aboard the Aquarius". His tweet concluded with the hashtag #chiudiamoiporti - which means "we're closing the ports" in Italian. They've all been rescued at sea after trying to get to Europe from Libya. And it has the potential to unravel the way that European Union countries cooperate in the Mediterranean to rescue migrants making the trip by sea from Libya. The League campaigned on an anti-migrant platform that proved popular with Italian voters because Italy and Greece had borne the brunt of the refugee and migrant crisis.

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