Published: Fri, June 15, 2018
Worldwide | By Sean Reid

Spain offers to take in drifting migrant ship Aquarius

Spain offers to take in drifting migrant ship Aquarius

HUNDREDS of migrants marooned at sea for days after Italy and Malta refused them entry were last night heading for Spain where the prime minister offered them safe harbour.

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.

The refusal to accept the Aquarius in Italy was the first major anti-migrant move since far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini took office this month.

The French government issued a pointed response to Italy's decision. Earlier, a spokesperson for Macron's party, Gabriel Attal, said on a TV show that "the line of the Italian government is nauseating".

"Italy can not accept hypocritical lessons from countries that have always preferred to turn their backs when it comes to immigration", Conte said in a statement. The island nation has a longstanding policy against allowing migrant rescue vessels to dock.

"Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat thanked Sanchez and said Italy had "(broken) global rules and caused a standoff".

In a possible solution to the impasse, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, a socialist who took office a week ago, gave instructions that the ship be allowed to dock in the eastern port of Valencia. "It is our obligation to avoid a human catastrophe and offer a safe haven to these people, fulfilling that way the obligations of worldwide law", his government said in a statement.

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Salvini and Italian Transportation Minister Danilo Toninelli, who is part of the 5-Star Movement faction in the new government, said in a joint statement Sunday that it was Malta's responsibility to "open its ports for the hundreds of the rescued on the NGO ship Aquarius".

Malta refused to take the ship, saying it was Italy's responsibility as the rescue was overseen by the Italian coastguard. Merchant vessels have diverted from their commercial voyages to rescue more than 50,000 people in the Mediterranean since 2015.

"Malta is neither the competent nor the coordinating authority in this case", the Maltese government said in a statement.

Home Affairs Minister Matteo Salvini told Italian media that a second humanitarian ship, the Sea Watch 3, which is now navigating off the Libyan coast, will not be allowed into Italian ports, if and when it is involved in a migrant rescue operation.

Over the past year, Italian public opinion has shifted against immigration. Efforts by Rome to persuade other EU states to accept some of the newcomers and share the cost of their care have largely fallen on deaf ears, heightening anti-European and anti-migrant sentiment in the Italy.

In a Facebook post dated April 21 past year, M5S leader Luigi Di Maio called boats carrying stranded migrants to Italy a "sea taxi", claiming they were conducting services they said were charitable in exchange for money.

The League had promised voters during recent elections that it would take a tough stance on immigration.

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