France urges 'cynical' Italy to rethink stance on migrant ship

15 June 2018, 01:06 | Isaac Mcdaniel

More than 600 refugees stranded in Mediterranean Sea as Italian minister shuts ports to rescue ship

Migrants remain at sea as Italy-Malta standoff intensifies

Spain has offered to take in a rescue ship carrying more than 600 migrants after Italy and Malta refused.

The 629 migrants, including 11 children and seven pregnant women, have been drifting in the central Mediterranean aboard the Aquarius since Sunday, when both Italy and Malta shut their ports to it.

The Spanish decision came just hours after the European Union and the United Nations refugee agency had called on Italy and Malta to let the rescue ship in and end the standoff after the two governments traded accusations of not doing enough amid the migrant crisis.

Beau told AFP a "one-off solution" had been found for the Aquarius after Spain offered to take in its passengers following refusals from the nearest countries, Italy and Malta.

By law, it would have been hard for Italy to refuse the boat a safe haven, as its own Coast Guard co-ordinated the rescues, picking up more than 280 migrants in its own vessels before transferring them to the Aquarius to be taken to safety.

"It is our obligation to help to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and to offer a safe port to these people", his office said in a statement.

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte said on Facebook that he had called on his Maltese counterpart, Joseph Muscat, to "explicitly at least take on the human assistance of persons in difficulty aboard the Aquarius". We will have to sit down and discuss how to prevent this from happening again. "This is a European issue".

"Italy can not accept hypocritical lessons from countries that have preferred to look the other way on immigration", the new populist government said in statement initially reported by Italian media and then confirmed by government representatives to AFP.

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French President Emmanuel Macron denounced the decision to block the Aquarius, operated by the Franco-German charity SOS Mediterranne, saying worldwide law obligated Italy to take in the migrants.

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

"This plan would mean already exhausted rescued people would endure 4 more days travel at sea", Doctors Without Borders said on Twitter.

"We will not turn Italy into a huge refugee camp", he wrote.

"Spain wants to report us, France says I'm "sickening".

The official, who asked not to be identified, said that Italy would not open its ports to the Aquarius. Some of those on board are reportedly pregnant women, and 15 others have serious chemical burns.

A total 629 migrants - including pregnant women and scores of children - are now crammed on to the Aquarius ship after being rescued off the Libyan coast on Saturday and Sunday.

Under EU rules, migrants must apply for asylum in the European country where they first arrive. He tells VOA there is no merit to the suggestion that people in distress will be dissuaded from crossing the sea in flimsy boats if they know rescue is not a possibility.



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