The Malta Independent 22 March 2019, Friday

Italy wants 629 migrants rescued near Libya to disembark in Malta, says its own ports ‘closed’

Sunday, 10 June 2018, 17:41 Last update: about 10 months ago

The Italian government is insisting that Malta takes in 629 migrants that were rescued near Libya on Sunday morning, saying that its ports were closed.

The migrants are currently on board the Gibraltar-registered ship Aquarius, but according to reports most of them had been saved by the Italian navy in the first place.

They were rescued in Libyan territorial waters, in an area that is closer to Tunis and Lampedusa than it is to Malta. The operation was coordinated by the Rome Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC).

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Italy's coast guard and navy and private cargo ships picked up 400 of the migrants before they were transferred to the vessel operated by humanitarian group SOS Mediterranee.

The group tweeted on Sunday that 40 of the people on the Aquarius were crossing the sea in a dinghy that collapsed before they were rescued.

Italian news reports say the country's new right-wing interior minister, Matteo Salvini, denied the aid ship permission to dock in Italy and wants Malta to accept it.

A Salvini aide didn't immediately respond for a request for details, only saying the news reports "aren't being denied."

In an official statement, the Maltese government said: "The rescue by NGO boat Aquarius was conducted in the Libyan Search and Rescue region and coordinated by Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC) Rome. RCC Malta in this case is neither the competent, nor the coordinating authority."

The Nationalist Party is expressing its support, saying that Malta's interests come first and Malta must stand firm in the circumstances.

This is the second migrant dispute between Italy and Malta in the space of three days.

On Friday, new Italian home affairs Minister Matteo Salvini said Malta could not always say no to migrant rescues. He was speaking after the rescue of 180 migrants which were eventually disembarked in Calabria (photo above).

The Italian government said Malta had refused to take them in but Malta said it was not the closest safe port when the rescue took place.  

Malta has hardly taken in any migrants over the past years, with many speculating about a secret agreement, supposedly brokered between Joseph Muscat and former Italian PM Matteo Renzi. The government had at one point admitted that such an agreement existed but backtracked a few hours later. It has denied the existence of such an agreement ever since.

Speaking on Sunday morning, Muscat insisted that Malta always followed international law, adding that the government wanted to clear up any misunderstandings with the newly formed government in Italy.

MSF – the NGO that picked up the migrants in this latest dispute – says the group includes 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 children seven pregnant women. The migrants on board were rescued in six different operations.

 

Main photo: vesseltracker.com

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