Spain offers to take migrant ship amid Italy-Malta standoff

12 June, 2018, 01:34 | Author: Kim Reid
  • Humanitarian group SOS Mediterranee said there were 123 minors on board the Aquarius ship

The European Union is appealing to Italy and Malta to quickly work out - for humanitarian reasons - where a ship carrying more than 600 rescued migrants should dock.

The charity said the group of mainly sub-Saharan Africans were picked up in six different rescue operations off the coast of Libya and included hundreds who were plucked from the sea by Italian naval units and then transferred to the Aquarius.

The Aquarius had been heading to Sicily after rescuing migrants off the Libyan coast, but Mr. Salvini, who is also interior minister and deputy prime minister, said that all Italian ports would be closed to it and other rescue ships.

The mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, and the mayor of Valencia, Joan Ribó, had previously offered to take in the 629 migrants who are now on the Aquarius, after having been rescued from the Mediterranean by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and Sos Mediterranée.

Tweeting on Sunday, Salvini said: "Starting today, Italy, too, begins to say NO to the trafficking of human beings, NO to the business of clandestine immigration".

One Aquarius crew member, Alessandro Porro, told Italian news channel Sky TG24 that they desperately needed to know which port to go to.

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The League had promised voters during recent elections that it would take a tough stance on immigration.

Italy's hardline interior minister Matteo Salvini insisted that Malta "cannot continue to look the other way when it comes to respecting precise global conventions on the protection of human life".

"The Aquarius has followed the orders of the Maritime Coordination Centre and we are awaiting the designation of a safe port to disembark", explained Nicola Stalla, the coordinator of search and rescue operations of SOS Mediterranee, according to El Pais newspaper.

The number of migrants arriving in Spain has been on the rise, Benavides reports, while the number of sea arrivals in Italy "has dropped 77 percent compared to this time previous year, following controversial deals with the Libyan Coast Guard and investigations into NGO search-and-rescues".

There are no showers or sinks for migrants on the Aquarius and rescue workers use a disinfectant spray on people's hands before they eat.

Italy's new interior minister Matteo Salvini has called on Malta to open its border.

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More than 600,000 migrants have reached Italy by boat from Africa in the past five years. "Italy is done bowing its head and obeying. We're closing the ports".

Mayors across southern Italy say they're prepared to admit the migrants.

The French organisation said that among those saved and brought on board are 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 small children and seven pregnant women.

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.

That has put pressure on Italy and Greece, the entry points for hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia since 2015. But Italy can not simply expel hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrants without severe repression, and Italy doesn't yet have the agreements with many key countries of origin needed to facilitate returns.

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