Italy, Malta must allow disembarkation of stranded migrants

Italy shuts ports to rescue ship carrying 629 migrants

Italy's new interior minister threatened to bar rescue ships from docking in the country's ports after Malta refused to take hundreds of migrants, reports say.

The migrant rescue charity SOS Méditerranée, which runs the Aquarius, said 629 migrants had been picked up in six different rescue operations off Libya's coast on Sunday.

On Monday afternoon, Spain offered to allow the migrant-rescue ship to dock at the port of Valencia "to help avert a humanitarian catastrophe, " though it remained unclear whether or not the ship was able to make the journey to Valencia.

"People are in distress, are running out of provisions and need help quickly".

Matteo Salvini, in a joint statement with Danilo Toninelli, the minister in charge of the Italian coastguard, insisted that Malta "cannot continue to look the other way when it comes to respecting precise global conventions on the protection of human life".

It's not yet clear what Salvini and the new government have in mind, but it's worth remembering that the League's Roberto Maroni was interior minister in 2009 when Italy implemented its nefarious policy of literally pushing boats back to Libya.

"Saving lives at sea is a duty, but transforming Italy into an enormous refugee camp is not", he said on Facebook.

"Our objective is the disembarkation in a port of safety of the 629 people now on board the Aquarius - some we rescued yesterday night in hard conditions", she said.

Since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, and the Libyan civil war three years later, Italy has absorbed more than 600,000 undocumented or illegal migrants, most of whom arrived by sea from North Africa. In a video, she said: "People are slowly getting up and getting ready for their first meal and we are yet to learn which port they are going to be using to disembark".

Salvini campaigned on an anti-immigrant platform that also included a vow to expel hundreds of thousands of migrants already in Italy, even though experts doubt such mass deportations are feasible or financially viable.

Salvini took this a chance to remind that other European countries have been defending their borders without much of a fuss.

"Italy has stopped bowing our heads and obeying".

The rescuers say those on board Acquarius include 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 children, and 7 pregnant women.

Also on Monday, Salvini signaled his intention to prevent a second foreign-flagged search-and-rescue vessel, Sea Watch 3, operated by a group of German volunteers and now positioned off the coast of Libya, from docking. It added that the Aquarius "is still waiting for definitive instructions regarding the port of safety".

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. On Sunday evening, he posted an image of himself on Twitter with his arms crossed above the message, "We are closing the ports", rendered as an Italian hashtag.

Sanchez, a Socialist who toppled his conservative predecessor with a no-confidence vote after a corruption scandal, made his offer after the mayors of Valencia and Barcelona both offered to take the boat in at their ports.

The Mediterranean has always been a key route into Europe for refugees and migrants are using North African states, such as Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt as launch points for journeys.

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