Italy's Far-Right Government Leaves Hundreds Of Migrants Stranded At Sea

Elias Hubbard
June 13, 2018

The MV Aquarius as migrants and refugees are rescued by the SOS Mediterranee organisation in the Mediterranean Sea, off the Libyan Coast, September 14, 2017.

It singled out France, whose leader earlier was quoted as calling Italy's response "cynical", as having adopted migrant arrivals policies "much more rigid and cynical".

The Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez said he would give the ship "safe harbour" and that he wanted to help avoid a humanitarian emergency.

The 629 migrants were picked up off the coast of Libya last weekend by a boat run by migrant-aid group SOS Mediterranee but the Italian government on Sunday refused to allow the vessel to dock.

The Mayor of Palermo, one of those cities keen to defy Italy's new populist, anti-establishment left-right coalition government, caught headlines with his remarks when he said of his decision to open the port: "Palermo in ancient Greek meant "complete port".

"That's why we ask the government in Valletta to take in the Aquarius in order to offer first aid to the migrants on board".

Matteo Salvini, Italy's Interior Minister and Northern League party leader made a decision to refuse docking to "Aquarius" and redirect the vessel to the Island of Malta, apparently in line with his election promises.

"Clearly, politely raising our voice - something that the Italian government had not done for a long time, for years - pays", Salvini said from the headquarters of his far-right League party.

Even as he drew his line, an Italian coast guard vessel with 936 migrants and two migrants' bodies on board was headed toward Catania, Sicily, where it was expected to dock on Tuesday evening, Italian news agency ANSA said.

Packed in Some of the 629 migrants asleep on Aquarius as it heads to Spain
Packed in Some of the 629 migrants asleep on Aquarius as it heads to Spain

In a strongly worded statement, Premier Giuseppe Conte's office said "Italy can not accept hypocritical lessons from countries that on the topic of immigration have always preferred to turn their heads". "We have hosted 650,000 migrants in recent years alone, all of whom pass by Malta, an European Union country, and the government says, 'Ciao, Ciao, go to Italy.'".

But Beau said that under maritime law the ship should be allowed to dock in one of the nearest countries, Italy or Malta.

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

The head of the French charity which charters the Aquarius migrant rescue ship said Tuesday that it would continue its operations despite the global standoff over the 629 people now onboard. Some of those on board are reportedly pregnant women, and 15 others have serious chemical burns.

More than 600,000 migrants and refugees have reached Italy by boat from Africa in the past five years.

"After the refusal of Malta to allow the people aboard the Aquarius to disembark there, we received an unprecedented gesture of solidarity from Spain".

The expeditionary fast transport ship "USNS Trenton, in accordance with its obligations under worldwide law, rendered assistance to mariners in distress that it encountered while conducting routine operations in the Mediterranean Sea", US Navy Lt. Cmdr.

UNHCR also pointed to "key treaties" stating that a nation which has responsibility for an area in which a search-and-rescue operation takes place is required to "exercise primary responsibility" for coordinating the migrants' safe disembarkation.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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