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

Refugees aboard the Aquarius

Refugees aboard the Aquarius

But the Aquarius is heavily overcrowded, making the four-day trip to Spain particularly perilous.

A child looks on as Nigerian Christians pray aboard rescue ship MV Aquarius, off the coast of Sicily on May 14, 2018.

"Many commentators attribute the populists election success to the European Union's failure to assist Italy in handling the migrant crisis".

French President Emmanuel Macron, who had been criticized for not offering to take in the boat at a French port, broke his silence on the topic during a Cabinet meeting Tuesday, denouncing the "cynicism and irresponsibility of the Italian government", government spokesperson Benjamin Griveaux said at a press conference.

After Spain's new Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez allowed the ship to dock in Valencia, Salvini celebrated the decision.

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 global conventions on the protection of human life".

A French NGO's rescue ship, the Aquarius, was waiting for a port to dock at on Monday as a diplomatic standoff played out over where it should go next.

Matteo Salvini, the country's new interior minister and the head of League, blocked the Aquarius' access to Italian ports.


But a spokesman for Macron's Republic on the Move party said the Italian government's policy was "sickening".

Italy has refused to allow a humanitarian ship carrying more than 600 migrants and refugees to dock at its ports, officials say, and has now asked the Mediterranean island of Malta to open its doors to the vessel.

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. "Italy is done bending over backwards and obeying, this time THERE IS SOMEONE WHO SAYS NO", he wrote on Twitter followed by the hashtag #closethedoors.

However, the European Commission, "anxious to avoid feeding the new Italian government's anti-EU narrative, took a softer line" reports The Guardian, "calling on Italy and Malta to consider the humanitarian needs of those on board but insisting the matter was outside its control".

The ship said it had been ordered on Sunday night by Italy's coast guard to remain 35 miles off Italy and 27 miles from Malta. Some of those on board are reportedly pregnant women, and 15 others have serious chemical burns.

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.

"The boat is now heading north towards a secure port", SOS Mediterranee tweeted without specifying its destination, though virtually every such migrant boat over the past five years ended up in Italy.

"There are more than 600 people onboard, they are exhausted, they want to get to safety, there is, of course, a lot of tension among them because they are not sure what is going to happen", she added.

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