Tuesday, 14 August, 2018

Italy or Malta must let stranded migrants land 'immediately'

Italy shuts ports to rescue ship carrying 629 migrants Italy turns away ship carrying over 600 migrants
Faye Gross | 11 June, 2018, 16:45

Salvini said Malta should accept the vessel.

Themis' operational area will span the Central Mediterranean Sea from waters covering flows from Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Turkey and Albania. Those on board include unaccompanied minors and even a newborn baby.

There is predictable outrage at the decision by Italy's new populist interior minister Matteo Salvini to shut the ports to NGO ships carrying migrants from North Africa, but truthfully no-one in Brussels, Berlin or Paris should be surprised it has come to this.

Some 629 people, including pregnant women and scores of children, were saved by SOS Mediterranean on Saturday and are stuck aboard the French NGO's ship Aquarius, which is now between Malta and Sicily waiting for a secure port.

Malta has ignored calls from Italy's hardline interior minister to not "look the other way".

The closest, safest port, excluding Libya, was Lampedusa, however, Italian Home Affairs Minister Matteo Salvini ordered all of his country's ports closed to the ship, insisting that Italy can no longer continue to bear the brunt of migration which he contends is being facilitated by NGOs operating "sea taxis".

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte said on Facebook that he had called on his Maltese counterpart, Joseph Muscat, to "explicitly at least take on the human assistance of persons in difficulty aboard the Aquarius".

Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli, who is nominally in charge of the ports, said: "Malta can not continue looking the other way when it comes to respecting global conventions".

He tweeted: #Chiudiamoiporti. "We're closing the ports".

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By law, it will be hard for Italy to refuse the boat a safe haven, as its own Coast Guard coordinated the rescues, picking up more than 280 migrants in its own vessels before transferring them to the Aquarius to be taken to safety.

Palermo Mayor Leoluca Orlando said Salvini was "violating worldwide law which makes saving lives a priority".

"Malta is not acting, France rejects them, and Europe doesn't care", Salvini wrote.

Not everyone in Italy agreed with the government action, and the mayors of a number of southern cities, including Naples, Palermo and Messina, said they would welcome the migrants.

We have always welcomed rescue boats and vessels who saved lives at sea.

And the crisis between the Mediterranean countries may be far from being over, as Italian newspaper Repubblica reported that 800 more people have been saved by both Italian and worldwide boats in Libyan waters overnight.

Moreover, Chochetel said that "fundamentally, the principle of rescue at sea must not be put into doubt through incidents like this". It is not possible for Malta to say "no" to every request for help.

Migrants on April 23 watch the Sicilian coast from the Aquarius vessel as they arrive in Trapani, Italy.

European Union leaders in December had set an end-of-June deadline for an overhaul of rules to create a permanent mechanism to deal with migrants in the event of a new emergency.

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