Italy Denies Entry to Another Migrant Rescue Ship - Interior Minister

Italy shuts ports to rescue ship carrying 629 migrants

His second says, "Malta is in full conformity with global obligations and will not take the vessel in its ports". "This could compromise all the work and cooperation between us over the past few years".

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.

Italy's new interior minister Matteo Salvini had threatened to close access to Italian ports for migrant rescue ships if Malta refused to take the migrants on board.

Salvini, the leader of the far-right League, was rejected by Malta who said the ship fell under Italy's jurisdiction.

SOS Mediterranean spokeswoman Mathilde Auvillain told The Associated Press the ship was "heading north following instructions received after the rescues and transfers" Saturday night.

Mr Salvini said on Sunday Italy was saying "no to human trafficking, no to the business of illegal immigration".

The migrant rescue charity SOS Méditerranée, which runs the Aquarius, said 629 migrants had been picked up in six different rescue operations off Libya's coast on Sunday.

The Aquarius and its passengers were caught up in a crackdown promoted by the right-wing partner in Italy's new populist government, which has vowed to stop the country from becoming the "refugee camp of Europe".

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Under worldwide law, people rescued at sea should be brought to the nearest and safest port for assistance.

Will Malta accept the ship?

Sea-Watch said police also questioned some of the rescued migrants who, after being processed by the authorities, are likely to end up in reception centres.

For years the European Union has largely ignored Italy's rising fury at being left to deal with the migration crisis (even when it came from more politically acceptable figures like Matteo Renzi) but with Mr Salvini in charge, that may no longer be possible.

The same day Italian authorities held the migrant rescue boat Sea-Watch 3 for 12 hours after it brought 232 people to Reggio Calabria, on the south-western tip of the mainland. The cause of death was yet to be determined.

The ship Aquarius, carrying 629 migrants from Libya, including seven pregnant women, is operated by the charities Medecins Sans Frontieres and Sos Mediterranee. The migrants were taken to a naval base in Tripoli.

The summer of 2016 saw a surge in mass drownings in the Mediterranean as Europe's worst migration crisis since World War II peaked with hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and elsewhere.

The United Nations estimates that at least 500 people have died in 2018 trying to cross the central Mediterranean, following some 2853 fatalities past year.

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