June 21, 2018

Defiant charity to continue Aquarius migrant rescues

14 June 2018, 04:03 | Taylor George

Migrants on board the NGO search and rescue vessel Aquarius Credit Guglielmo Mangiapane Reuters

Migrants on board the NGO search and rescue vessel Aquarius

Hundreds of migrants stranded for days on an aid ship in the Mediterranean because Italy and Malta refused to take them headed Tuesday for Spain after being transferred to two other vessels.

The International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) launched an initiative in Rome on Monday to help find missing migrants in the Mediterranean, a day after Italy and Malta refused to allow a rescue boat carrying 629 migrants to dock in their ports.

Migrants are rescued in the Mediterranean sea on June 9, 2018 in a picture released on June 11, 2018 by SOS Mediterranee, before boarding the French NGO's ship Aquarius.

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.

Italy's refusal to accept the Aquarius was the first major anti-migrant move since the far-right interior minister, Matteo Salvini, took office this month.

But the charity's missions will continue "as long as there are people drowning in the Mediterranean, as long as we have the resources, and as long as we are able to act and we are not kicked out of the area", she said.

He said Malta should accept the Aquarius instead, but the government in Valletta said the rescued migrants fall under Italy's jurisdiction, as they were picked up the migrants in Libyan waters.

The leaders of Italy and Malta are thanking Spain for allowing a rescue ship with 629 migrants aboard to dock in Valencia.

Italy's hardline interior minister Matteo Salvini, in a joint statement with Danilo Toninelli, minister in charge of the Italian coastguard, insisted that Malta "cannot continue to look the other way when it comes to respecting precise worldwide conventions on the protection of human life".

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In a statement, the Spanish government said, "It is our duty to help avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and offer "safe harbour" to these people in accordance with global law".

The Italian Coast Guard said it had contacted countries that are responsible for the waters the Aquarius convoy will cross to ensure authorities are on alert if there were any possible medical emergencies among the migrants that require outside intervention.

Salvini appears to be using this latest migrant incident to assert that Italy can no longer be left alone to deal with the continuous flow of migrants arriving by sea, mostly from Africa, and that he expects other European countries to share the burden in future.

Under global law, people rescued at sea should be brought to the nearest and safest port for assistance.

Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said in a tweet that "Malta is going to send fresh supplies to the ship".

The Aquarius and its passengers were caught up in a crackdown promoted by the right-wing partner in Italy's new populist government, which has vowed to stop the country from becoming the "refugee camp of Europe".

They were taken on board its ship Aquarius, which is now between Malta and Sicily. Salvini had earlier issued a joint statement with Italian Transportation Minister Danilo Toninelli of the 5-Star Movement, saying Malta "cannot continue to look the other way when it comes to respecting precise worldwide conventions on the protection of human life".

That has put pressure on Italy and Greece, the entry points for the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty at home to seek a new life in Europe.

European Union leaders in December had set an end-of-June deadline for an overhaul of rules to create a permanent mechanism to deal with migrants in the event of a new emergency.

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