Italy shuts ports to rescue ship carrying 629 migrants

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12 June, 2018

Spain offered on Monday to take in a rescue ship that is drifting in the Mediterranean sea with 629 migrants stranded on board after Italy and Malta refused to let it dock.

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

Tweeting out the hashtag #CloseMyPorts, Salvini identified the Sea Watch 3, a Dutch-flagged vessel working for a German open-borders group, telling his followers: "Italy has stopped bending its head and obeying, this is the time where we say no". He noted that other European countries are very much involved in current rescue operations in the Mediterranean - including a German aid group now off Libya - but no country is stepping up to actually take in the migrants.

The migrants were saved by SOS Mediterranee on Saturday and are stuck aboard the French NGO's ship Aquarius, which is now between Malta and Sicily waiting for a secure port for her to dock.

Malta's Prime Minsiter Joseph Muscat continued to insist his country is acting according to global law and that it is Italy's duty to take in the migrants, as Italy's coast guard coordinated the rescues off the coast of Libya.

Leader of the anti-migrant League party Mr Salvini, also deputy prime minister, tweeted yesterday: "Starting today, Italy, too, begins to say NO to the trafficking of human beings, NO to the business of clandestine immigration".

"If anyone thinks I won't move a muscle while we have another summer of landings, landings and more landings, well that's not what I'm going to do", Salvini told reporters. In particular, Salvini was calling out Malta for being less than thirty miles away and consistently refusing to accept any of these boat people who are rescued at sea.

SOS Mediterranee said late Sunday that it had received instructions from Italian authorities to hold position between Malta and Italy after previously heading north.

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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.

More than 15 migrants were also in need of medical care, CNN reports.

The Dublin Regulation, the set of European Union laws regulating immigration, generally require the migrants' first country of entry to examine their asylum claims. Political analysts said the rise of the populist movement in Italy was partly fuelled by the surge of migrant arrivals in Italy and their lack of resettlement elsewhere in the EU.

As the rhetoric intensified, the Aquarius remained on standby in the Mediterranean Sea with its 629 passengers, including 123 unaccompanied minors.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez ordered authorities to allow the Aquarius to dock in the eastern port of Valencia.

Another local resident, Natale Lombardo, said illegal migrants disembarking on the island were virtually "invading" them, adding that "he who arrives here legally is welcomed, but between these people there are also illegals and those can't be tolerated".

Italy has always been a destination for migrants crossing the Mediterranean and has been dealing with a surge in arrivals in recent years.


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