Italy claims EU faces turning point in migrant boat standoff

Arturo Kim
June 15, 2018

So Spain announced Monday that it would open the port of Valencia to the ship and the 629 migrants it carried.

The aid group said seven of those on board are pregnant, over 120 are unaccompanied minors and others are reported in critical condition suffering from hypothermia.

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.

Italy's refusal at the weekend marks the first major anti-migrant move since far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini took office this month promising to crack down on illegal immigration.

After a string of questions from lawmakers in parliament asking why Paris had remained silent on the issue, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian defended their country's stance saying Paris was ready to help Spain, but they urged Rome to rethink its position.

On Monday new president of Spanish Government, socialist Pedro Sanchez, offered option Valencia.

Médecins Sans Frontières, which has staff aboard the Aquarius, said the rescued migrants were stable for now but food and water on the ship would run out by last night.

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".

Under worldwide law, people rescued at sea should be brought to the nearest and safest port for assistance.

Malta and Italy both thanked Spain for stepping up, but maintained their dispute over who was responsible.

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Hundreds of migrants were being split between three ships Tuesday for a trip to Spain in bad weather, after Italy's new government used their plight to pressure Europe to revisit its migration policy.

More than 600,000 people have reached Italy by boat from Africa in the past five years.

"Spain's decision was welcomed by Italy, whose coalition government includes a right-wing, anti-immigrant party".

Salvini, who was only recently appointed as Italy's deputy prime minister and interior minister, has taken a hard-line approach against migrants, stating that his country would clamp down on new arrivals.

On Sunday, Italy refused the Aquarius permission to enter a port of refuge to offload the migrants.

Malta has said it will not take the ship.

Malta's government replied, saying its prime minister, Joseph Muscat, had spoken to the Italian premier, Giuseppe Conte, and underlined "that Malta is acting in full conformity with its worldwide obligations".

Both the Mayor of Barcelona and the Mayor of Valencia offered their cities to take in the ship, with the latter being the end destination for the Aquarius' 1,300 km route.

The charity said the group of mainly sub-Saharan Africans were picked up in six different rescue operations off the coast of Libya and included hundreds who were plucked from the sea by Italian naval units and then transferred to The Aquarius.

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