The Malta Independent 24 September 2018, Monday

184 Tunisian migrants land in Lampedusa, Italy again lashes out at Malta

Friday, 14 September 2018, 14:13 Last update: about 9 days ago

A total of 184 migrants have arrived at Lampedusa in several small boats over the past few hours, with Italy lashing out at Malta once again.

According to several Italian news outlets, Italian home affairs minister Matteo Salvini said that Malta had ‘dumped’ its problem on Italy.

On Thursday night the Maltese government referred to a number of boats crossing the Mediterranean, saying that these were not Search and Rescue (SAR) cases, as confirmed by Salvini in a tweet. 

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“The Maltese authorities will, as in every case, apply all applicable conventions.  These conventions do not allow authorities to forcefully intercept boats transiting on high seas.  Any interference with the right of passage would be considered as an illegal interception. In his own tweet, Minister Salvini admits that the boats are not facing difficulties while navigating,” the statement said.

The government regretted the fact “that once again the Italian authorities are resorting to unconventional tactics to try and circumvent its responsibilities.”

 A few hours later it was reported that most of the boats had reached the Italian island of Lampedusa. The migrants are Tunisian.

Speaking at a summit in Vienna, Salvini said Italy was working on “innovative and efficient” solutions to tackle these arrivals. Including returning the migrants to Tunisia

He was quoted as saying that the migrants could be steadily repatriated using scheduled flights. Italy was also working to speed up the identification process.

Salvini said Italy would soon reach an agreement with Tunisia. At the summit, he also met his Tunisian counterpart to discuss the migration problem.

According to reports, another boat with some 15 Tunisian migrants on board ran out of fuel and is stranded in Maltese waters. Reports say that Italy has asked Malta to intervene but has so far not received a reply.

Questions have been sent to the Office of the Prime Minister.

 Malta and Italy have been at loggerheads all summer. The latest standoff was the Diciotti case – 190 migrants were picked up by an Italian coast guard ship after allegedly being ‘abandoned’ by Malta.

While the Maltese government says that the migrants were not in any danger and could not be stopped from proceeding to their chosen destination, Italy says there were clear signs that the migrants were in peril. Italy says that the migrant boat sank just hours after its occupants were transferred to the Diciotti.

After the rescue, the Diciotti spent a number of days stranded at sea, with both Malta and Italy refusing it entry. The ship was finally allowed to dock in Sicily, but the migrants were only allowed to disembark after spending 10 days locked up on the vessel.

The Diciotti case was probably the most serious standoff between Malta and Italy this year, with a prominent Italian minister even calling for sanctions against Malta. 

 

Crossings on Spain route have more than doubled

Meanwhile, the European Union's border agency says the number of migrants crossing the western Mediterranean Sea into Spain more than doubled in the first eight months of this year, compared with the same period in 2017.

Frontex said in a statement Friday that from January to August it recorded "some 29,600 irregular border crossings on the western Mediterranean route, more than double the figure from a year ago." Some 6,500 people reached Spain last month, also more than double the figure for August 2017.

Most people were from Morocco, Guinea and Mali.

Frontex said that, more broadly, the number of people crossing the entire Mediterranean fell by 40 percent from last year to around 86,500.

This was due to a sharp drop in people leaving strife-torn Libya for Italy, a main migrant route to Europe in recent years.

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