Published: Tue, June 12, 2018
People | By Leon Thompson

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

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

The agency's special envoy for migrants in the Mediterranean, Vincent Cochetel, underscored that "people are in distress, are running out of provisions and need help quickly".

The Aquarius, which was built in 1977 as a German coast guard ship, has 629 migrants on board, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa.

A humanitarian ship with more than 600 migrants on board remains adrift in global waters as Italy and Malta are at loggerheads over which country should take them.

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 worldwide obligations, it would appear that the stalemate may continue.

Matteo Salvini, the leader of the far-right League party, said Malta should take in the ship, the Aquarius, but his request was rejected.

"This Europe is not showing solidarity", Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said, adding that "Italy has to deal with the problem" of illegal human trafficking and migration flows "all by itself".

It's not yet clear what Salvini and the new government have in mind, but it's worth remembering that the League's Roberto Maroni was interior minister in 2009 when Italy implemented its nefarious policy of literally pushing boats back to Libya.

"If anyone thinks I won't move a muscle while we have another summer of landings, landings and more landings, well that's not what I'm going to do", Salvini told reporters. By Monday, the ship still did not know where to disembark the 629 people they had rescued.

Despite the diplomatic pressure, Italy and Malta held firm, with Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini clearly using the high seas drama as a pretext to force the hand of Italy's European neighbors.

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The Dublin Regulation, the set of European Union laws regulating immigration, generally require the migrants' first country of entry to examine their asylum claims.

Italy has taken in more than 600,000 migrants from the sea since 2014, according to Reuters, with about 13,706 sea arrivals so far this year - a significant decrease from recent years.

"The duty of a democratic government is not to look away" in a humanitarian crisis, said Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau, who also offered her port as a potential solution to the standoff.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who took office just over a week ago, has given instructions for the boat to be admitted to the eastern port of Valencia, his office said in a statement.

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 unsafe developments.

"As such Malta will not take the said vessel in its ports". The migrants, who were picked up from different boats in Libyan waters, hail from several African countries - including Nigeria, Morocco, Sierra Leone, Algeria and Sudan.

As of June 6, there had been an estimated 785 deaths on the route this year, the IOM said, with the majority of the 33,400 migrants and refugees arriving through Greece and Italy.

More than 100 unaccompanied minors and a number of pregnant women are on board the Aquarius.

Italy has always been a destination for migrants crossing the Mediterranean and has been dealing with a surge in arrivals in recent years.

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