Italy Denies Entry to Another Migrant Rescue Ship - Interior Minister

Italy Denies Entry to Another Migrant Rescue Ship - Interior Minister

Italy Denies Entry to Another Migrant Rescue Ship - Interior Minister

Both Italy and Malta refused to allow the Aquarius, carrying 629 migrants rescued off the coast of Libya, to dock, before Spain offered safe harbour for the refugees as humanitarian organisations warned of catastrophic consequences.

The migrants were picked up off the Libyan coast at the weekend and were packed onto the Aquarius which is operated by the charities SOS Mediterranee and Medecins san Frontieres.

The immigration section of the policy document calls for the deportation of Italy's estimated 500,000 undocumented immigrants "as a priority", building more detention centres and a review of the European Union's Dublin Regulation, which stipulates that migrants and refugees apply for asylum in the first EU country they reach.

The development comes a day after the new Spanish government headed by the Socialist prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, offered to allow the Aquarius to dock in Valencia, insisting it was an "obligation" to do so.

After a string of questions from lawmakers in parliament asking why Paris had remained silent on the issue, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian defended their country's stance saying Paris was ready to help Spain, but they urged Rome to rethink its position.

The two nearest countries, Italy and Malta, refused to let the ship dock at any of their ports.

The official, who asked not to be identified, said that Italy would not open its ports to the NGO's vessel, according to the Reuters news agency.

Valencia is nearly three days' voyage for the Aquarius, while Italy and Malta are just hours away.

But the two countries held firm, with Italy's new interior minister, Matteo Salvini, clearly using the high seas drama as the pretext to force the hand of Italy's European neighbors.

Maltese Premier Joseph Muscat accused Italy of violating global norms governing sea rescues and said the government's stance risked "creating a unsafe situation for all those involved". More than 1.8 million have entered Europe since 2014. Valencia is 700 nautical miles from point between Malta and Italy where humanitarian boat is now.

"Evidently raising your voice, something Italy did not do for years, pays", Salvini said. Salvini doubled down on his position earlier on Monday, warning another rescue ship, the Sea Watch 3, registered in the Netherlands and operated by a German charity, that it may not be allowed to dock in Italy if it picks up migrants off Libya, where it is now sailing.

"Following the election of the new Italian Government, the crisis now seems to be taking an ever more political direction", ICS said in a statement.

MSF Sea (Doctors Without Borders) said the medical situation of those on the Aquarius was "stable for now but unnecessary delay to disembarkation in safe port puts vulnerable patients at risk".

"People are still fleeing Libya while the Aquarius is away from the search and rescue area in the Central Mediterranean, where rescue capacities are already totally insufficient", the charity's vice president, Sophie Beau, said. "Italy is done bowing its head and obeying".

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