Thursday, 13 December, 2018

Migrants rescue-ship adrift as Italy-Malta standoff continues

Migrants on board the NGO search and rescue vessel Aquarius Migrants on board the NGO search and rescue vessel Aquarius Credit Guglielmo Mangiapane Reuters
Melinda Barton | 13 June, 2018, 21:01

The migrants had been rescued during a series of operations on Saturday by Italian maritime ships, cargo vessels and the Aquarius itself.

On Sunday, Italy had refused to allow the vessel to dock in its ports, demanding that Malta should take it in.

Both Italy and fellow European Union member Malta have refused to accept the migrants who are now heading for the Spanish port of Valencia after the new socialist government in Madrid agreed to take them in.

Spain offered its Port of Valencia as a safe harbor for the migrants, but it will take several days before the Aquarius reaches port.

The ship Aquarius rescued 629 people in the Mediterranean Sea on Saturday, "including 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 other children and seven pregnant women", Reuters reports.

The Aquarius, a former North Atlantic fisheries protection ship now used by humanitarian groups SOS Mediterranee and Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders), is seen in December 2017 during a rescue operation in the Mediterranean Sea.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which is operating the Aquarius alongside SOS Mediterranne, urged Rome to drop plans for the lengthy trip to Spain for its migrant passengers.

The Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez said he would give the ship "safe harbour" and that he wanted to help avoid a humanitarian emergency.

Italy says its decision to shut its ports to hundred of migrants aboard a charity ship is firm, as a clash between Rome and Paris over migrant policy heats up.

The rescue ship Aquarius has been stuck since Saturday in worldwide waters off the coast of Italy and Malta, both of which have denied it entry.

Many Spanish regions and cities have offered to provide long-term support to the migrants, said Valencia's regional vice president, Monica Oltra. Another 21 patients suffered severe chemical burns from exposure to sea water mixed with fuel, while others risk pneumonia and yet others need immediate surgery for orthopedic issues.

In comments to Italian journalists, Italy's Home Affairs minister Matteo Salvini accused Malta of acting "irresponsible".

Salvini, the leader of the right wing League party, is for now the most prominent voice in Italy's new government.

Corsican leaders Gilles Simeoni and Jean-Guy Talamoni, the top politicians on the French Mediterranean island, tweeted their offer on Tuesday morning as uncertainty grew over the fate of the 629 people on board the ship.

On June 3, Salvini went to Pozzallo, a Sicilian port where many rescued migrants and refugees disembark, to thunder that the "good times are over" for undocumented migrants and to insinuate that nongovernmental organizations saving lives in the central Mediterranean are complicit with smugglers.

The Valencia option was satisfactory for Italy, whose new populist government has taken a hard stand against immigration.

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.

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.