Friday 22 June 2018

Country's interior minister refuses to let rescue ship carrying 224 migrants dock

Italy's hard-line interior minister has refused port to a Dutch-flagged rescue boat with 224 migrants on board, a week after turning away another foreign ship, the Aquarius, which was carrying 630 migrants.

Matteo Salvini said the ship, operated by the German aid group Mission Lifeline, had loaded the migrants in Libyan waters despite being told by the Italian coast guard to leave the rescues to Libya. 

Salvini, who is urging Malta to take in the ship as he pressures European partners to share the burden, added that the migrants 'will only see Italy on a postcard'.

Mission Lifeline denied Salvini's claims, saying it conducted the rescue in international waters and asked for a safe port, which had not been assigned.

Salvini said: 'For the safety of the crew and those rescued we humanly and politically ask Malta to finally open one of its ports, and then seize the ship and its crew.'  

The ship's current position was not clear. The aid group has rescued 675 migrants since 2016, until now handing them over to other ships to continue rescues at sea.

This was the first time it had requested a port. The group said in a statement: 'Mission Lifeline fears that a similar situation to the Aquarius ... could be on the horizon.'

'Therefore the NGO calls on the competent authorities to swiftly react to their obligation to designate a place of safety.'

A source close to the Maltese government said that Valetta had not yet received any official request from Rome, nor had Lifeline itself sought any permission to land. 

Spokesman Axel Steier said that the condition of the migrants was 'OK,' but said migrants coming from Libya typically faced 'torture, rapes, slavery'.

He said the passengers need protection and that the group was looking for a safe port 'such as Lampedusa or Pozzallo', both in Sicily.

'We never were in Libyan waters,' he said.


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