Published: Fri, June 15, 2018
Global | By Craig Ferguson

France urges 'cynical' Italy to rethink stance on migrant ship

France urges 'cynical' Italy to rethink stance on migrant ship

Aid group SOS Mediterranee Sea says it is transferring some of the 629 migrants rescued at sea to Italian ships to continue to the journey to Spain where the prime minister has offered safe harbor.

Spanish socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez offered to allow the Aquarius to dock in Valencia, insisting it was an "obligation" to do so.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said on Sunday that he had told his Italian counterpart, Giuseppe Conte, his country would not take the ship.

On Sunday, Italy had refused to allow the vessel to dock in its ports, demanding that Malta should take it in.

Malta refused, saying it had nothing to do with the rescue mission, which was overseen by Italian coastguard. The tiny island says it already accepts proportionately more refugees than Italy.

The legal situation regarding who should take responsibility was, however, "not at all clear", said Natasha Bertaud, a European Commission spokeswoman for migration.

Problems for the vessel began when Italy's Matteo Salvini, recently appointed as interior minister as part of a new right-wing government, closed the country's ports to the boat, after promising voters he would crack down on immigration.

Maltese premier Joseph Muscat accused Italy of violating worldwide norms governing sea rescues and said its stance risked "creating a risky situation for all those involved".

"Malta is not acting, France rejects them, and Europe doesn't care", Salvini wrote.

"From the empirical evidence, the boats had been arriving whether there were or were not rescue operations in the Mediterranean or in Eastern Mediterranean or Central Mediterranean", Mahecic said.

'A European issue' Malta and Italy both thanked Spain for stepping up, but maintained their dispute over who was responsible. Meanwhile Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli, a member of M5S and the minister in charge of the Italian coast guard, said that "this time everyone has to understand that global law can not mean that Italy should be abandoned".

Spain unexpectedly offered on Monday to take in the Gibraltar-flagged ship, recognising that several of those on board, whom were picked up off the Libyan coast over the weekend, were in need of medical assistance.

The migrants had been rescued from flimsy smugglers' boats in the Mediterranean during a series of operations on Saturday by Italian maritime ships, cargo vessels and the Aquarius itself.

Mr Salvini, leader of anti-EU and anti-immigration party Lega, denied the right to dock the boat to Italian harbours claiming Malta should take the migrants. While he agreed that there should be a more fair distribution of migrants in the European Union, he said Salvini was "making a point at the cost of people in distress".

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