Migrants remain at sea as Italy-Malta standoff intensifies

Frederick Owens
June 14, 2018

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.

Spain's prime minister, Socialist party leader Pedro Sanchez, offered to resolve the impasse by allowing the Aquarius access to the port of Valencia on Monday. "Italian maritime authorities must organise for a safe and fast solution for the 629 people on board", SOS said late on Monday. "The situation is stable but it can not run" forever. Another 21 patients suffered severe chemical burns from exposure to sea water mixed with fuel, while others risk pneumonia and yet others need immediate surgery for orthopedic issues.

With food and drink running short, their plight could last another three or four more days before they are finally able to land in Spain, said the French charity SOS Mediterranee which operates the ship.

"We call on all involved to contribute to a swift resolution so that the people on board the Aquarius vessel may be safely disembarked as soon as possible", Mr Schinas said. "The same can not be said of France, which has often adopted much more rigid and cynical immigration policies", the Italian government says. The tiny island says it already accepts proportionately more refugees than Italy.

"If anyone thinks I won't move a muscle while we have another summer of landings, landings and more landings, well that's not what I'm going to do", Salvini told reporters. "Saving lives is a duty, but transforming Italy into an enormous refugee camp isn't".

His co-deputy premier, Luigi Di Maio, claimed that Monday was a turning point in Europe's divisive debate over immigration. Political analysts said the rise of the populist movement in Italy was partly fuelled by the surge of migrant arrivals in Italy and their lack of resettlement elsewhere in the EU.

The first group of migrants have been transferred from the humanitarian ship Aquarius - which had rescued 629 migrants crossing from Libya - to an Italian coast guard vessel, reports say.

Spain stepped in to help after Italy - which has been on the front line of the migration crisis in Europe - and Malta refused to allow the Aquarius to land despite strong pressure from the worldwide community.

However, French President Emmanuel Macron denounced the decision to block the Aquarius, saying that under worldwide law Italy should have taken the migrants in.

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"In the meantime, the Maltese government is concerned at the Italian authorities' directions being given to Acquarius on the high seas which go against worldwide rules, and risk creating a risky situation for all those involved".

"It is our obligation to help to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and to offer a safe port to these people". And he said the logistics and time counted against setting a course for Spain.

Malta and Italy both thanked Spain for stepping up, but maintained their dispute over who was responsible.

Nearly a quarter of the migrant survivors hail from Sudan, the group said.

But Italy's new anti-establishment government, looking to put pressure on the European Union to re-write its immigration rules, showed no signs of relenting despite warnings of an approaching storm bringing waves of over 2 meters (6.5 ft).

Italy has long protested that sending migrants to the nearest port has distributed Europe's burden unequally, hitting Italy particularly hard.

"Malta takes in nobody". The island nation has reduced the number of migrants it has taken in over the past decade, from a high of 2,775 in 2008 to just 23 a year ago, according to UN statistics. That stance "confirms the latest unwillingness of Malta and, thus, of Europe, to intervene and take care of the emergency".

Among those on board are 400 migrants rescued by the Italian navy and merchant vessels before being transferred to the Aquarius.

"Italy has stopped bowing our heads and obeying", Salvini said in a Facebook post.

Other reports by LeisureTravelAid

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