Italy prepares Spanish migrant convoy, clashes with France

Sergio Conner
June 13, 2018

Italy's new "Italians first" government claimed victory Monday when the Spanish prime minister offered safe harbor to a private rescue ship after Italy and Malta refused to allow it permission to disembark its 629 migrant passengers in their ports.

Its doctors are helping treat the migrants, who include seven pregnant women, 11 young children and 123 unaccompanied minors.

But Mathilde Auvillan, the SOS Mediterranee press officer, told HuffPost UK: "We are still waiting for the instructions from the Rome MRCC, which coordinated the rescue and transfer operations".

A handout photo made available by SOS Mediterranee shows the sea rescue of a total of 629 migrants.

After rescuing 229 people from these boats, the Aquarius was requested by the IMRCC to accept a transfer of people who had been rescued by Italian navy and coastguard ships on 9 June.

The outgoing Democratic Party government had already intensified cooperation with Libyan authorities to stop departures and enable Libyan coast guard forces to intercept migrant boats in global waters and take people back to horrific conditions in arbitrary detention in Libya.

The migrants have been at the heart of a standoff between Malta and Italy after both countries refused to allow the Aquarius to dock.

"Evidently it pays to raise one's voice, something Italy hasn't done as long as one can remember", Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, the League's leader, said Monday at party headquarters.

"Saving lives is a duty, turning Italy into a huge refugee camp is not". Corsica is not the closest port to the ship, but is closer than Valencia. But Italy can not simply expel hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrants without severe repression, and Italy doesn't yet have the agreements with many key countries of origin needed to facilitate returns.

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

"These are all foreign ships flying foreign flags that bring this human cargo to Italy", Salvini told private television La7 on Monday. This past weekend the ship picked up more migrants, but was turned away from ports in Sicily and the nearby country of Malta.

But the decision to close ports was significant because it showed Italy's willingness to put up a stop sign closer to its border. The group also noted the migrants aboard the ship had already been at sea for more than three days.

The country refuses to take in migrants because of its small size. He thanked Spain for stepping in.

The Italian government responded with a statement saying "Italy can not accept hypocritical lessons from countries that in the migration field have always preferred to turn their head to the other side", Italian media reported, adding that Rome is considering canceling a summit between Macron and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Friday.

Both the Mayor of Barcelona and the Mayor of Valencia offered their cities to take in the ship, with the latter being the end destination for the Aquarius' 1,300 km route.

Yet MSF officials said that disembarking at the closest port is the better priority than a journey of an extra four days, taking into account deteriorating weather conditions coupled with tensions and maximum capacity onboard the Aquarius.

"If allowed to go unchallenged, [this] will discourage and compromise the lifesaving work of NGO's leaving thousands of migrants and refugees adrift in the Mediterranean", Elisa De Pieri, Amnesty's Italy researcher, said in a statement on Tuesday.

"What does worldwide law say?"

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