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

Tools for Schools program in need of school supplies for students

Supplies will be donated to students across Central Alberta

Smiles Thru Lindsey Foundation hosting a drive-in movie fundraiser

Excitement building as the big event draws closer

Expansions rolling ahead at Red Deer Hospice

Six new rooms will provide care to 100 additional residents each year

Red Deer RCMP warn public about online job scams

Red Deer man applied for a construction job and was asked a fee to process his application

Central Alberta Buccaneers come up short against Monarchs

Bucs’ lose star quarterback in heartbreaking affair

Average Canadian family spends 43% of income on taxes: study

Fraser Institute’s consumer report shows taxes accounting for larger chunk of income each year

Judge OKs Weinstein suit, cites casting couch’s history

Actress Kadian Noble can sue disgraced Hollywood mogul for violating sex trafficking laws

Employers to raise salaries 2.6% on average next year: report

Firm points to factors such possibility of more trade protectionism, rising interest rates

Lacombe Council passes second reading of cannabis bylaw

Public hearing sees opposition to bylaw; third reading coming Sept. 10th

UPDATED: Cars plunge in Italian highway bridge collapse; 25 killed

Five more people are injured and in serious condition

Court hearing on Humboldt Broncos fundraising to test Saskatchewan law

The money has yet to be distributed because Saskatchewan has legislation known as the Informal Public Appeals Act

Fredericton police release scene of shooting spree, but ‘damage’ remains

Residents of a Fredericton apartment complex may not be able to return home just yet

Bus crash in Ecuador kills 23 people, injures 14

The bus hit another vehicle in an area known as dead man’s curve on Tuesday

Trump and Omarosa spar over claim he used N-word

Manigault Newman continues promoting her White House tell-all and releasing secret audio recordings

Most Read