Italy sends migrant convoy to Spain - Italianmedia

13 June, 2018, 21:04 | Author: Wade Massey
  • The humanitarian ship Aquarius currently 43 nautical miles off Malta's coast carrying 629 migrants

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.

Italy's hardline interior minister Matteo Salvini, in a joint statement with Danilo Toninelli, minister in charge of the Italian coastguard, insisted that Malta "cannot continue to look the other way when it comes to respecting precise worldwide conventions on the protection of human life".

"We can not go to Spain".

He said Malta should accept the Aquarius instead, but the government in Valletta said the rescued migrants fall under Italy's jurisdiction, as they were picked up the migrants in Libyan waters.

In an attempt to ease the stalemate, a number of mayors of port cities in Italy on Monday said that they would allow the ship to dock in their cities.

In a Facebook post, Di Maio then slammed France, saying that they "hold back migrants every day at Ventimiglia", a border town between Italy and France and an immigration hot spot.

Malta and the new populist government in Italy each refused to take the migrants in, accusing one another of failing to meet their obligations.

Around 600,000 people are believed to have reached Italy by boat from Africa since the start of the migrant crisis five years ago, with as many as half a million estimated to still be in the country.

But Italy can not simply expel hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrants without severe repression, and Italy doesn't yet have the agreements with many key countries of origin needed to facilitate returns.

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Police questioned the boat's captain for more than four hours, according to Sea-Watch - the NGO that operates the vessel - and journalists aboard were asked to hand over video footage of the June 5 rescue operation.

Tweeting on Sunday, Salvini said: "Starting today, Italy, too, begins to say NO to the trafficking of human beings, NO to the business of clandestine immigration".

It took six different operations by a French charity called SOS Mediterranee to pick up all 629 migrants and get them aboard a rescue ship called Aquarius.

It suggested that the hundreds on board "are running out of provisions".

But the charity has a new and more pressing problem: Italy's new government.

Their safety was at risk for the longer voyage given the forecast of bad weather, said Mathilde Auvillain, a spokeswoman for the charity SOS Mediterranee that operates the ship with Doctors Without Borders.

The ship had sailed north towards Italy but Matteo Salvini, the head of the far-right League party who became interior minister this month and has vowed to curb an influx of migrants from Africa, blocked it and said it should go to Malta instead.

"Our mission is to rescue people at sea", SOS Mediterranee general manager Sophie Beau told AFP. There are also 21 patients on board who have suffered severe chemical burns after being exposed to a toxic mixture of sea water and fuel for an extended period of time.

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

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