Migrants Stranded at Sea Amid Standoff Between Italy and Malta

629 migrants on ship in limbo after Italy Malta refusal

629 migrants on ship in limbo after Italy Malta refusal

Malta has always refused large numbers of migrants to dock at its ports, saying it already accepts more refugees per capita than Italy.

Italy's new deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, had said the country would not allow the ship to dock in any of its ports.

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.

A child looks on as Nigerian Christians pray aboard rescue ship MV Aquarius, off the coast of Sicily on May 14, 2018.

Echoing similar calls by the United Nations and the bloc's biggest member state Germany, Schinas added: "For the commission there is first and foremost a humanitarian imperative, we are talking about people".

Italy's new rightwing government has closed its ports to the migrants rescued by a German vessel in Libyan waters.

Salvini, leader of the right-wing League party, promised voters a tough stance on immigration in the run up to the recent election. "He has once again shown that we are under an extreme far-right government" he said, reports The Guardian.

Local media have been suggesting that by instructing Acquarius to stand by its current position in deep waters, new Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who had been criticising NGOs for carrying out the role of taxis for migrants, has started implementing anti-migrant policies.

Mr Salvini says he wants to "stop the death boats".

Muscat said he told Conte "that Malta is acting in full conformity with its worldwide obligations". However, Malta's Ministry for Home Affairs and National Security issued a statement saying the country is not responsible for the rescue effort coordinated by the Aquarius.

"Our objective is the disembarkation in a port of safety of the 629 people now on board the Aquarius - some we rescued yesterday night in hard conditions", she said.

"States and actors involved should rapidly find solutions to allow migrants and refugees on board to disembark safely and quickly", it said in a tweet. "We have never been a situation before where we have been denied a right to a port of safety", he said Monday via a WhatsApp message. Although there were no immediate emergencies on board, the spokesman said, there were many who needed medical care for chemical burns, hypothermia and dehydration.

"The people we saved yesterday were in a hard condition, at least 50 were at risk of drowning".

"If anyone thinks I won't move a muscle while we have another summer of landings, landings and more landings, well that's not what I'm going to do", Salvini told reporters.

The vessel with 123 unaccompanied minors and seven pregnant women on board is stranded in the Mediterranean Sea.

The country refuses to take in migrants because of its small size.

That has put pressure on Italy and Greece, the entry points for hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia since 2015.

By law, it would be hard for Italy to refuse the boat a safe haven, as its own coastguard coordinated the rescues, picking up more than 280 migrants in its own vessels before transferring them to the Aquarius to be taken to safety.

Spanish President Pedro Sanchez announced Monday afternoon that the ship and its passengers would be welcome in the port of Valencia.

Mr Salvini, who also serves as Italy's Home Secretary, also said his decision to close the country's ports to NGO boats is "the first signal" to other European Union member countries.

There are no showers or sinks for migrants on the Aquarius and rescue workers use a disinfectant spray on people's hands before they eat.

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