Friday, 24 May, 2019

Migrant rescue ship denied right to dock in Italy and Malta

Italy’s new Interior Minister Matteo Salvini Italy 'to shut ports' to boat carrying over 600 refugees
Deanna Wagner | 11 June, 2018, 15:24

The Salvini gambit might be crude, against European Union and worldwide law, and an even offence against common decency, but it might also inject a dose of reality.

Malta's prime minister Joseph Muscat said: "The Italian government is breaching worldwide rules and, with its attitude, is risking to create a situation that would be risky to everyone".

Italy and Malta dug in for a second day Monday and refused to let a rescue ship with 629 people aboard dock in their ports, leaving the migrants at sea as a diplomatic standoff escalated under Italy's new anti-immigrant government.

The previous Italian government also threatened to close the country's ports last July during last summer's spate of migrant movements across the Mediterranean.

Some 629 people, including pregnant women and scores of children, were saved by SOS Mediterranean on Saturday and are stuck aboard the French NGO's ship Aquarius, which is now between Malta and Sicily waiting for a secure port. 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.

Malta has ignored calls from Italy's hardline interior minister to not "look the other way".

The MV Aquarius, a search and rescue ship run in partnership between SOS Mediterranee and Medecins Sans Frontieres, has been told by Italian authorities to stand by in its current position, 35 nautical miles from Italy and 27 nautical miles from Malta. "Malta should hold strong and firm to safeguard its national interest", Delia said.

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Experts said the award was a clear sign that both countries were growing closer amid increasing pressure from the US. He once again slammed Washington for its illegal decision to withdraw from the internationally recognized accord.

Earlier, Malta said in a statement that the Aquarius took on the passengers in waters controlled by Libya and where Italian authorities in Rome coordinate search-and-rescue operations. In practical terms, no ships of this type will be able to land without cooperation of the Italian coastguard, which is under the direct command of the Italian government.

The vessel is now awaiting "definitive instructions", the humanitarian group said.

The group said it "urgently requests a swift resolution and a designated port of safety".

Farther west in the Mediterranean, Spain's maritime rescue service saved 334 migrants and recovered four bodies from boats it intercepted trying to reach Europe over the weekend.

The UN refugee agency on Monday called on Italy and Malta to immediately allow a boat carrying hundreds of migrants to dock, describing the situation as "an urgent humanitarian imperative".

To the east, Libya's coast guard intercepted 152 migrants, including women and children, from two boats stopped in the Mediterranean off the coast of the western Zuwara district Saturday.

The United Nations says at least 785 migrants have died crossing the sea so far this year.