Published: Mon, June 11, 2018
Worldwide | By Isabel Fisher

Hundreds of migrants stranded at sea as Italy, Malta close doors

Hundreds of migrants stranded at sea as Italy, Malta close doors

A humanitarian ship with more than 600 migrants on board remains adrift in global waters as Italy and Malta are at loggerheads over which country should take them.

However, Malta denied Italy's request and said that it has nothing to do with the rescue operation.

Spain has agreed to welcome the migrant rescue ship Aquarius after Italy and Malta failed to reach a consensus over which country should welcome it.

In the first showing of the new government's hardline approach, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini blocked entry of the boat and has instead called for Malta to take responsibility saying that they do not take their fair share. "Saving lives is a duty, but transforming Italy into an enormous refugee camp isn't".

Last week, Mr Salvini said Rome should increase its deportations of migrants.

However, Mr Salvini does not have authority over the ports and it was not immediately clear if his edict would hold.

Italy's new interior minister, Matteo Salvini, said on Sunday that from now on, "Italy, too, begins to say NO to the trafficking of human beings".

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said Italy's refusal to allow the Aquarius ship to dock at an Italian port risked "creating a risky situation for all those involved". "The island can not continue looking the other way when it comes to respecting worldwide conventions", read the Italian government's statement signed by Salvini and Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli.

Around 400 of those on board were rescued by the Italian Navy, the Italian coastguard and merchant vessels before being transferred to the Aquarius.

Earlier on Sunday, the charity SOS Mediterranee on Twitter that its rescue ship, The Aquarius, had taken on board 629 refugees and migrants, including 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 other children and seven pregnant women.

The Maltese Rescue Coordination Center "is neither the competent nor the coordinating authority", the statement said.

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 unsafe to everyone".

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

"As far as the refugee ship is concerned, I can say that we are concerned about the situation of the people on this ship, the Aquarius, and that the government calls on all parties to to fulfil their humanitarian responsibility", said German government spokesman Steffen Seibert.

The SOS Mediterranee said the migrants were picked up in six separate overnight operations in the central Mediterranean on Saturday.

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

Salvini has accused the charities of acting as a "taxi service" for the migrants.

On Friday, he suggested North Atlantic Treaty Organisation intervene to protect Italy, saying the country is "under attack from the south".

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