Published: Thu, June 14, 2018
Global | By Shelia Dennis

Migrants remain at sea as Italy-Malta standoff escalates

Migrants remain at sea as Italy-Malta standoff escalates

Some 629 migrants, including 11 children and seven pregnant women, have been afloat in the central Mediterranean aboard the Aquarius rescue ship since Sunday, when both Italy and Malta refused to let them dock.

A private rescue ship carrying 629 migrants remained at sea Sunday evening after more than a day of not receiving permission to dock in either Italy or the small Mediterranean island nation of Malta.

But in order to do so, coastguard authorities said migrants will need to disembark Aquarius and be transferred onto Italian government-run ships.

With food and drink running short, their plight could last another three or four more days before they are finally able to land in the Spanish port of Valencia, according to the French charity SOS Mediterranee which operates the ship.

The Maltese prime minister also expressed concern over the Italian authorities' directions given to the Acquarius vessel, adding that such policies contradicted global norms, and might lead to risky developments. On Monday new president of Spanish Government, socialist Pedro Sanchez, offered option Valencia.

"In the Italian case, turning this into a political weapon is is clear that Europe must act more wisely, but we can not let these people die at sea", he said.

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More than 600 migrants, including over 120 teenagers and children, had to be rescued from inflatable boats off the coast of Libya in Africa.

Beau said a "one-off solution" had been found for the Aquarius after Spain offered to take in its passengers following refusals from the nearest countries, Italy and Malta.

"VICTORY", tweeted Italy's far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini.

Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat tweeted his thanks to Sanchez "for agreeing to accept the Aquarius after Italy violated global law and caused an impasse". He noted that other European countries are very much involved in current rescue operations in the Mediterranean including a German aid group now off Libya but no country is stepping up to actually take in the migrants.

Spain offered on Monday to take in a humanitarian ship stranded in global 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.

Eric Ciotti, a prominent hard-right MP from the opposition Republicans party, also called on the government to take a tough line on the Aquarius.

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Italian newspaper Repubblica reported government sources said Mr Salvini's plan is to only let migrants enter Italian waters if they are on Italian, military or commercial boats.

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte said he personally contacted Malta's prime minister, Joseph Muscat, to "explicitly at least take on the human assistance of persons in difficulty aboard the Aquarius".

On Friday it became first of m to set sail for tracking and rescue zone in front of Libya since inauguration of new Italian government, openly anti-immigrant.

The operation, they said, will unload the Aquarius, which has been carried for three days more than 100 people over its capacity.

The summer of 2016 saw a surge in mass drownings in the Mediterranean as Europe's worst migration crisis since World War II peaked with hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and elsewhere.

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

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