Migrants remain at sea as Italy-Malta standoff escalates

Italy-Malta refused to let a rescue ship with 629 people aboard dock in their ports

Italy and Malta dug in for a second day Monday and refused to let a rescue ship with 629 people aboard dock in their ports, leaving the migrants at sea as a diplomatic standoff escalated under Italy’s new anti-immigrant government.

“Enough!” said Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini. “Saving lives is a duty, but transforming Italy into an enormous refugee camp isn’t.”

He tweeted: #Chiudiamoiporti. “We’re closing the ports.”

Maltese Premier Joseph Muscat also refused to take in the Aquarius ship of the humanitarian group SOS Mediterranee. He accused Italy, which co-ordinated the rescue, of violating international norms governing sea rescues.

Italy’s position, Muscat said, risks “creating a dangerous situation for all those involved.”

As the rhetoric intensified, the Aquarius remained on standby in the Mediterranean Sea with its 629 passengers, including 123 unaccompanied minors and seven pregnant women. The ship said it had been ordered by Italy’s coast guard co-ordinationcentre late Sunday to remain 35 miles off Italy and 27 miles from Malta.

RELATED: FIFA World Cup preview: France, Denmark poised to push through Group C

The migrants had been rescued during a series of operations Saturday by Italian maritime ships, cargo vessels and the Aquarius itself. All passengers were offloaded to the Aquarius to be taken to land.

Doctors Without Borders, which has staff aboard the Aquarius, tweeted a video of some of the women aboard the ship praying Monday morning and said they were unaware of the diplomatic drama being waged on land over their fate.

“Thank you Lord,” the women sang. The group said it “urgently requests a swift resolution and a designated port of safety.”

The standoff marked the first inevitable clash over migrant rescues with League leader Salvini, now running Italy’s interior ministry. Salvini campaigned on an anti-immigrant platform that also included a vow to expel hundreds of thousands of migrants already in Italy, even though experts doubt such mass deportations are feasible or financially viable.

Malta, for its part, has consistently refused to take in migrants, citing its small size and limited capacities.

The island nation has progressively reduced the number of migrants it has taken in over the past decade, from a high of 2,775 in 2008 to just 23 last year, according to U.N. statistics.

Salvini pointed to Malta’s unwillingness in accusing Europe as a whole of leaving Italy on its own to deal with the refugee crisis. He noted that other European countries are very much involved in current rescue operations in the Mediterranean — including a German aid group currently off Libya — but no country is stepping up to actually take in the migrants.

“Italy has stopped bowing our heads and obeying,” Salvini said in a Facebook post. “This time we say no.”

The standoff is actually the third in recent weeks, after the outgoing government of Premier Paolo Gentiloni refused to let humanitarian aid groups dock in Italian ports until the ships’ flag nations had formally requested permission. Those incidents delayed the migrants’ arrival, but they ultimately made it to Italy.

The Associated Press

Just Posted

Surrey ponders peacock relocation plan

City council to vote Monday night on proposed Sullivan Heights Peafowl Relocation Action Plan

Surrey masked robber loses appeal on strength of probation officers identifying him

Judge found the probation officers ‘had the appropriate degree of familiarity with the accused’

White Rock takes stock of city projects in 2017 Annual Report

Mayor expresses confidence that families will enjoy the new, revitalized amenities

Cloverdale Library, newspaper launch teen photo-caption contest

‘Capture summer in Surrey’ and win prizes, publication

Tom Gill is Surrey First’s mayoral candidate

The announcement comes one day after Surrey Councillor Bruce Hayne split from the party

B.C. BMX kid wows GoPro with homemade video

Eight-year-old Rex Johnson wins award for inventive video

Vancouver Canucks tab Quinn Hughes with No. 7 overall pick in NHL draft

University of Michigan standout was second defenceman picked in first round

Horse put down after hit by car in Maple Ridge, one person to hospital

Accident along 132nd Avenue in Maple Ridge Friday afternoon

Gun, drugs and cash seized in arrest of alleged B.C. fentanyl dealer

Vancouver Island man Brent Connors is facing nine charges in relation to investigation

PHOTOS: Police rescue baby seal found on rocky B.C. shoreline

Marina Mammal Rescue Centre recommends residents observe from a distance

B.C. woman with severely disabled son keeps getting parking tickets

‘There has to be something they could do’

‘Creep off’ reporting system aims to track street harassment in Metro Vancouver

Text-based hotline launches to collect public reports on where and when harassment occurs

10 feet from home: B.C. grassfire offers stark reminder how quickly blazes burn

Kamloops woman among first people in B.C. to be told to evacuate home this wildfire season

Happy ending for orphaned bear cubs

Two orphaned bear cubs were captured in Castlegar and sent for rehabilitation.

Most Read