Italy turns away ship carrying over 600 migrants

Aaron Brown
June 12, 2018

Italy has refused to allow a humanitarian ship carrying more than 600 migrants and refugees to dock at its ports, officials say, and has now asked the Mediterranean island of Malta to open its doors to the vessel.

The Aquarius, a former North Atlantic fisheries protection ship now used by humanitarian groups SOS Mediterranee and Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders), is seen in December 2017 during a rescue operation in the Mediterranean Sea.

The decision was backed by other mayors in Italy's south, including those in Naples, Messina and Reggio Calabria, who all said they were ready to disobey Salvini's order and allow Aquarius to dock and disembark in their seaports, the Guardian reported.

The Aquarius took the migrants, including 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 other children and seven pregnant women, toward Italy, but the country's new, far-right Interior Minister barred it from docking and said it should go to Malta.

Matteo Salvini, Italy's Interior Minister and Northern League party leader chose to refuse docking to "Aquarius" and redirect the vessel to the Island of Malta, apparently in line with his election promises. "France pushes people back at the border, Spain defends its frontier with weapons", Salvini wrote on Facebook.

Salvini's migration policies may well face challenges not only from Italy's vibrant civil society groups but also in the courts and from European Union institutions. It 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.

"Italy has been claiming for years that it is unfair that it has been rescuing migrants at sea without the support of its European partners".

The migrant influx has led to a populist backlash, with Salvini vowing to prevent Italy from becoming the "refugee camp of Europe".

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"Our only objective is the disembarkation in a port of safety of the people that we rescued yesterday in hard conditions", it said, adding that it "took good note" of the Italian Interior Ministry's statements.

Spain has agreed to take 629 migrants, including more than 100 children, drifting in the Mediterranean.

MSF Sea (Doctors Without Borders) said the medical situation of those on board was "stable for now but unnecessary delay to disembarkation in safe port puts vulnerable patients at risk". It added that the Aquarius "is still waiting for definitive instructions regarding the port of safety".

"We would need a resupply at sea which is not so easy to organize so we urge Italy to find a solution very soon close to our position", he told The Associated Press in Paris.

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".

Increasing safe returns for migrants to their countries after fair and efficient procedures is a reasonable policy objective.

Also on Monday, Salvini signaled his intention to prevent a second foreign-flagged search-and-rescue vessel, Sea Watch 3, operated by a group of German volunteers and now positioned off the coast of Libya, from docking.

Other reports by Free-Prsite

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