Migrants transferred to Italian ships to be taken to Spain

14 Juin, 2018, 16:05 | Auteur: Anatole Charbonneau
  • The humanitarian ship Aquarius currently 43 nautical miles off Malta's coast carrying 629 migrants

The U.S. Sixth Fleet, which is based in Naples, Italy, said in a brief statement to The Associated Press that the USNS Trenton on Tuesday "rendered assistance to mariners in distress that it encountered while conducting routine operations in the Mediterranean Sea".

In the other hand, the Maltese government insisted it was "acting in full conformity with its worldwide obligations".

Spain answered the call, opening the port of Valencia to the vessel, Lucia Benavides reports for NPR from Barcelona.

Muscat said Malta will offer to evacuate people who require urgent medical help, without prejudice to its stand in refusing entry to the ship. "They manifestly go against worldwide rules, and risk creating a risky situation for all those involved", Mr Muscat said on Twitter.

On June 10, Italy's new Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini declined to allow the Aquarius to dock in Italy, instead calling on Malta to accept the ship.

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". The Navy statement didn't say where the survivors would be taken but that "U.S. authorities are coordinating with our worldwide partners to determine their ultimate disposition".

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.

The migrants had been rescued from flimsy smugglers' boats in the Mediterranean during a series of operations Saturday by Italian naval ships, cargo vessels and the Aquarius itself. The rescued people include 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 children and seven pregnant women.

Italy's new populist coalition government between the far-right League party and anti-establishment Five Star Movement has pledged to stop the flow of people entering the country through the Mediterranean.

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But Muscat, "while comprehending the situation", rebuffed him, Conte said in a Facebook post late Sunday. "Malta is not acting, France rejects them, and Europe doesn't care", Salvini wrote.

Like Malta, Italy didn't appear to be budging. "The same can not be said of France, which has often adopted much more rigid and cynical immigration policies", the Italian government says. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Facebook that Spain's offer meant Italy was "no longer alone" and now it was time to make European Union asylum rules "more fair for everybody".

Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat tweeted his thanks to Sanchez "for agreeing to accept the Aquarius after Italy violated global law and caused an impasse".

"You can't create a precedent that will enable one European country to offload onto other European countries", he continued. Although the influx has been subsiding, the country continues struggling to cope with the arrivals.

Media reports earlier said Salvini had threatened to close access to Italian ports for migrant rescue ships if Malta fails to act.

Global law says the decision on where a boat must dock depends on the country coordinating the search and rescue operation, but the law "does not say that it should be that country itself".

But the Spanish ports may be too far away for the overburdened Aquarius.

Aquarius, a ship operated by SOS Mediterranee and Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), had rescued migrants from inflatable boats off the coast of Libya last weekend.

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