Italy shuts ports to migrant boat, asks Malta to open its doors

Migrants remain at sea as Italy-Malta standoff intensifies

But Salvini said his hard-line stance was aimed at only foreign NGOs for the moment and an Italian coast guard ship was expected to dock in Sicily in the coming hours carrying some 937 migrants, also rescued off Libya.

Problems for the vessel began when Italy's Matteo Salvini, recently appointed as interior minister as part of a new right-wing government, closed the country's ports to the boat, after promising voters he would crack down on immigration.

Di Maio, leader of the Five Star Movement that makes up Italy's new government alongside the nationalist League, said that it was "embarrassing" that France "preached to us" as Italy is asking its European partners to share the rights and duties in solidarity with Italy. "Italy has stopped bowing our heads and obeying", Salvini said in a Facebook post.

The migrants had been rescued during a series of operations on Saturday by Italian maritime ships, cargo vessels and the Aquarius itself.

This solution is happy for Italy, which maintains closure of its ports, and Spanish president, which resolves a humanitarian crisis that affects European migratory policy in full. The rescued people include 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 children and seven pregnant women. The tiny island nation with fewer than a half a million inhabitants says it already accepts more refugees per capita than Italy, which has taken in more than 600,000 boat migrants since 2014.

Spain offered on Monday to take in a humanitarian ship stranded in worldwide waters with 629 migrants aboard, prompting Italy's new anti-establishment government to claim victory in its bid to get European partners to help more on immigration.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who is due to meet Macron in Paris this Friday, shot back.


Muscat tweeted his thanks to Sanchez "for agreeing to accept the Aquarius after Italy violated global law and caused an impasse".

Refugees International reminds European Union governments that while a fair mechanism for sharing the responsibility for Europe's recent refugee arrivals is urgently needed, the reality is that only a small fraction of the world's migrants and refugees ever reaches Europe.

As such Malta will not take the said vessel in its ports.

"The Mediterranean is the sea of all the countries that face it, and it (Malta) can't imagine that Italy will continue to face this giant phenomenon (of migration) in solitude", the ministers said.

Charity boats operating off the Libyan coast have played an increasingly important role in rescuing migrants who often put to sea in flimsy inflatable boats not designed for the open sea.

A spokesman for the Maltese government told AFP they "have not received communication from Salvini so far", but that "Malta was neither the coordinating nor the competent authority" in the rescue.

SOS Mediterranee director general Sophie Beau said Spain's offer "is encouraging and shows that some states are sensitive to the humanitarian emergency".

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