Migrants stranded: Malta says Italy going 'against global rules'

Italy’s new Interior Minister Matteo Salvini

Italy’s new Interior Minister Matteo Salvini

A Maltese government spokesman told AFP that the rescue of the migrants took place in the Libyan search and rescue area and was headed up by the rescue coordination centre in Rome, meaning Malta has no legal obligation to take in the migrants.

Salvini - Italy's new interior minister and leader of the far-right League - on Sunday refused to grant the vessel permission to dock in Italian ports and called on the island of Malta to take in the boat's 629 passengers.

Italy is insisting Malta is the ship's closest safe port of call, but Malta is arguing Italy is responsible under worldwide law as the charity ship had picked up the migrants in Libyan waters.

Doctors Without Borders operates the Aquarius ship, together with the SOS Mediterranean Organisations.

Maltese Premier Joseph Muscat also refused to take in the Aquarius ship of the humanitarian group SOS Mediterranee.

"From today, Italy will also start to say no to human trafficking, no to the business of illegal immigration". That stance "confirms the latest unwillingness of Malta and, thus, of Europe, to intervene and take care of the emergency". The rescue ship's crew itself pulled 229 migrants from the water or from traffickers' unseaworthy boats Saturday night, including 123 unaccompanied minors and seven pregnant women.

"Saving lives at sea is a duty, but transforming Italy into an enormous refugee camp is not", Salvini said on Facebook on Monday.

"Our only goal is to let the people we assisted yesterday in hard conditions to dock in a secure port".

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said Italy's refusal to allow the Aquarius ship to dock at an Italian port risked "creating a unsafe situation for all those involved".

Malta is accusing Italy of violating worldwide norms by instructing a migrant rescue ship with 629 people aboard to stay at sea while a diplomatic standoff plays out over where it can dock.

The group said it "urgently requests a swift resolution and a designated port of safety".

Italy's new interior minister has refused to let 600 migrants disembark in Italy, leaving rescue ship in limbo in Mediterranean.

SOS Méditerranée spokesperson Mathilde Auvillain said the boat had received orders to head north after a series of sea rescues and was now was awaiting "definitive instructions". The cause of death was yet to be determined. The migrants were taken to a naval base in Tripoli.

Libya was plunged into chaos following a 2011 uprising.

Driven by violent conflicts and extreme poverty, hundreds of thousands of migrants have reached southern Europe in recent years by crossing the Mediterranean in smugglers' boats that often are unseaworthy.

The United Nations estimates that at least 500 people have died in 2018 trying to cross the central Mediterranean, following some 2853 fatalities a year ago.

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