Published: Tue, June 12, 2018
Worldwide | By Myra Stephens

Migrants rescue-ship adrift as Italy-Malta standoff continues

Migrants rescue-ship adrift as Italy-Malta standoff continues

Matteo Salvini, the leader of the far-right League party, said Malta should take in the ship, the Aquarius, but his request was rejected. The usual suspects are up in arms, but the Italians want other countries to start sharing this burden.

The migrants had been rescued during a series of operations Saturday by Italian maritime ships, cargo vessels and the Aquarius itself. He noted that other European countries are very much involved in migrant rescue operations in the Mediterranean - including a German aid group now off the coast Libya - but no country is stepping up to actually take in the migrants once they are plucked from boats or the sea. The ship said it had been ordered by Italy's coast guard coordination centre late Sunday to remain 55 kilometres off Italy and 45 kilometres from Malta.

"My aim is to guarantee a peaceful life for these youths in Africa and for our children in Italy", Mr Salvini said, using a Twitter hashtag which translates to, "We are shutting the ports". He noted that many other countries have ships roaming the Mediterranean who do not accept these boatloads of refugees.

The Sea Watch still did not have any migrants on board, spokesman Ruben Neugebauer said.

At a news conference Monday afternoon, Salvini was asked whether Spain's humanitarian gesture was a "slap in the face" to Italy. It's a fair question.

Earlier in the day, the Maltese government also refused to accept migrants from the Acquarius.

Naples is "ready, without funds, to save human lives", the mayor of Naples tweeted, calling Salvini a "heartless minister".

Italy has called on Mediterranean neighbour, the island of Malta, to open its doors to the vessel.

Irrespective of how European countries choose to manage their sea borders, the principle of rescue at sea is one that should never be in doubt.

Given that Italy's decision to close their ports was the first strong-man move from anti-immigration Home Affairs Minister and Leader of the League (LEGA), one of the two parties of the ruling coalition, and the murky waters surrounding global obligations, it would appear that the stalemate may continue.

Muscat tweeted his thanks to Sanchez "for agreeing to accept the Aquarius after Italy violated worldwide law and caused an impasse". The election results show the League made further gains, with polls indicating that the move was popular with Italians.

More than 100 unaccompanied minors and a number of pregnant women are on board the Aquarius. Malta resisted, and its prime minister, Joseph Muscat, accused Italy of breaking "international rules" and blamed it for causing a "standoff".

Malta, for its part, has consistently refused to take in migrants, citing its small size and limited capacities. France and Spain have previously said it's not their job either.

If Italy keeps up its more aggressive policy on migrant boats, "it means a re-direction of the arrivals and it's easy to imagine that there will soon be other vessels stranded in global waters", said Eugenio Ambrosi, EU director at the worldwide Organization for Migration, the United Nations migration agency. If Italy pushes back hard enough, the European Union is going to have to come up with some new solutions.

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