African migrants stranded at sea as Italy-Malta standoff escalates

Tuesday, 12 Jun, 2018

Mayors in Naples, Messina, Reggio Calabria, and Palermo stood against the poll-topping, recently installed Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini Sunday after he said the migrant ship Aquarius would be turned away from Italy, reports Italy's Il Giornale.

While Trump was alienating America's other close allies at the Group of 7 meeting in Canada this weekend, Conte had echoed the American president's call for Russian Federation to be re-admitted to the club it was suspended from for seizing Crimea and fomenting war in Ukraine. The Rome-based rescue coordination centre gave the instructions.

Around 400 of those on board were rescued by the Italian Navy, the Italian coastguard and merchant vessels before being transferred to the Aquarius.

But after Italy's new far-right interior minister said it couldn't dock, and then Malta said the migrants were Italy's responsibility since Italy's coast guard oversaw the rescue, the ship was running out of provisions. "This time there's someone saying no".

"The people we saved yesterday were in a hard condition, at least 50 were at risk of drowning".

The UN refugee agency, the European Union, Germany and humanitarian groups had all demanded that Italy and Malta put their domestic politics aside and urgently consider the plight of the 629 migrants, among them more than 120 children, seven pregnant women and people suffering from hypothermia.

This undated photo released by French NGO SOS Mediterranee on Monday and posted on its Twitter account shows migrants aboard SOS 'The Aquarius'and MSF (Doctors Without Borders) NGOs in the Mediterranean Sea. "It's primarily saying that Italy can not be left alone in dealing with so many migrants", he said in an interview.

On Sunday, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte asked Malta to take the African migrants aboard the Aquarius, but Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat rejected the request, arguing his country had no obligation under worldwide law to accept them.

Malta, for its part, has consistently refused to take in migrants, citing its small size and limited capacities. More than 600,000 migrants and refugees have disembarked on Italian shores in the last four years. In 2013-2014, the operation Mare Nostrum was an Italian military rescue operation that saved around 150,000 migrants from drowning and cost about 10 million euros per month. "Broader issues such as who has responsibility and how these responsibilities can best be shared between states should be looked at later".

Nicola Stalla, search-and-rescue coordinator on the search-and-rescue ship Aquarius, told CNN that the situation was unprecedented.

"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.

Tweeting out the hashtag #CloseMyPorts, Salvini identified the Sea Watch 3, a Dutch-flagged vessel working for a German open-borders group, telling his followers: "Italy has stopped bending its head and obeying, this is the time where we say no".

But efforts to break the stalemate between Italy and Malta are expected to continue.

"There is an urgent humanitarian imperative here", said Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR's Special Envoy for the Central Mediterranean, in a statement.