Migrants Stranded at Sea Amid Standoff Between Italy and Malta

12 June, 2018, 03:38 | Author: Carlos George
  • Spain accepts 629 stranded migrants after Italy and Malta refused them

More than 600 refugees and aid workers are stranded in a boat in the Mediterranean after both Malta and Italy refused to let the vessel dock.

Italy's refusal to take in the migrants is the first sign of the new government's hardened stance on immigration. But AP notes that "it wasn't immediately clear if such a voyage was feasible given the distances involved - the ship is now more than 1,400 kilometers (over 750 nautical miles) from Valencia".

The migrants, including pregnant women and scores of children, were saved by the French charity SOS Mediterranee on Saturday. "The situation is stable but it can not run" forever.

The UNHCR says migrants aboard the rescue ship Aquarius are in distress, running out of provision and urgently in need of help. It said some of the passengers were suffering from water in their lungs as well as chemical burns caused when gasoline mixes with seawater.

A request to allow the migrants to disembark in Malta also went nowhere, according to Doctors Without Borders.

Although mayors of port cities across Southern Italy vowed to defy Salvini and allow the ship in, there was little they could do without the cooperation of Italy's coastguard.

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.

For years the European Union has largely ignored Italy's rising fury at being left to deal with the migration crisis (even when it came from more politically acceptable figures like Matteo Renzi) but with Mr Salvini in charge, that may no longer be possible.

"I wish I had tens of slaps like these", Salvini said.

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. His tweet concluded with the hashtag #chiudiamoiporti - which means "we're closing the ports" in Italian.

By law, it would be hard for Italy to refuse the boat a safe haven, as its own coastguard coordinated the rescues, picking up more than 280 migrants in its own vessels before transferring them to the Aquarius to be taken to safety.

"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".

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Malta's Prime Minsiter Joseph Muscat continued to insist his country is acting according to global law and that it is Italy's duty to take in the migrants, as Italy's coast guard coordinated the rescues off the coast of Libya.

Global law says the decision on where a boat must dock depends on the country coordinating the search and rescue operation, but the law "does not say that it should be that country itself".

Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who came into office just over a week ago, said: "It is our duty to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and offer a secure port for these people". France and Spain have previously said it's not their job either.

Italy's new Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said it was a step in the right direction.

The Aquarius ship at sea.

The vessel, now carrying 629 people, has been ordered by the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre late on Sunday to stand put 35 nautical miles from Italy and 27 nautical miles from Malta. "All the survivors are exhausted and dehydrated because they spent many hours adrift in these boats".

"Several (migrants) need medical assistance, which requires a rapid solution", Doctors without Borders, which runs a medical clinic on the Aquarius, said in a statement.

"Thank you, Lord", the women sang.

"Starting today Italy will begin to say NO to human trafficking, NO to the business of illegal immigration", Salvini wrote in a Facebook post. He is now the country's Interior Minister. Malta has refused the ship entry, insisting it was abiding by global law.

Nationalist Party MEP Roberta Metsola has taken a pot shot against Joseph Muscat over the developing migrant crisis, describing him as a "populist" in a "contest of one-upmanship".

But efforts to break the stalemate between Italy and Malta are expected to continue.

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