Italy refuses to take in migrants from Aquarius ship

The Aquarius

Italy on Monday denied safe harbour to the 141 people rescued by the humanitarian ship Aquarius off the coast of Libya last week, setting up another stand-off with European Union allies over who would take them in.

Matteo Salvini, the country's far-right populist interior minister, also wrote: "It can go anywhere it wants, NOT in Italy".

Earlier on Monday, Malta's armed forces rescued 114 migrants from a rubber dinghy taking on water 53 nautical miles (100 km) south of Malta and brought them back to the island.

The vessel, Aquarius, rescued migrants from global waters on Friday with the help of Libya. "Stop human traffickers and their accomplices".

"German ownership, rented by a French NGO, foreign crew, in Maltese waters, carrying the Gibraltar flag", Salvini said in a post on Twitter Monday.

When asked why the ship had not made for Libya, the nearest port at the time of rescue, Beau said that, according to worldwide law: "A safe port is a port in which people can obtain protection, which is absolutely not the case in Libya in the current situation".

Among the "weak and malnourished" migrants are two pregnant women and 67 unaccompanied minors, many from Somalia and Eritrea, some of whom reported being held in inhuman conditions in Libya, the charity said.

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"Malta was neither the coordinating nor the competent authority. and therefore has no legal obligation to make the arrangements to provide for a place of safety".

The Aquarius's MSF coordinator, Aloys Vimard, said the rescued migrants now on board the ship told staff that they had been passed by five other vessels, none of which had offered any help, before they were picked up by the rescue boat. Nick Romaniuk, SOS Mediterranee's search and rescue co-ordinator, said: 'What is of utmost importance is the survivors are brought to a place of safety without delay, where their basic needs can be met'.

In June, the Aquarius ended up taking some 630 migrants to Spain, which welcomed it.

Official sources in Spain say they are reluctant to accept more migrants because worldwide law calls for the country nearest the rescue, in this case Italy or Malta, to be responsible for the refugees.

An estimated 720 people died in June and July when charity ships were mainly absent, Amnesty International estimates.

Due to pressure from Italy and Malta, most charity ships are no longer patrolling off the coast of Libya.

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