Published: Thu, June 14, 2018
People | By Neil Grant

France says Italy flouting international law on migrant ship

France says Italy flouting international law on migrant ship

Migrant flows into Italy continue, albeit at a slower rate, and migrant departures from Italy to other European nations proceed at a relatively slow pace due to EU asylum policies.

Italy will refuse to let a humanitarian ship carrying more than 600 migrants dock at its ports and has asked the Mediterranean island of Malta to open its doors to the vessel, government officials said on Sunday.

Meanwhile, hundreds of migrants aboard the Aquarius were being transferred Tuesday afternoon to ships operated by the Italian navy and coast guard, which are then to accompany the aid ship to the Spanish port of Valencia.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which is operating the Aquarius alongside SOS Mediterranne, urged a rethink.

Everyone is exhausted, and the daily fight for a sleeping spot on deck is creating friction among this large group of people stuck together in a reduced space: the Aquarius is 77 meters long and made for holding no more than 550 migrants for two to three days.

But the charity's missions will continue "as long as there are people drowning in the Mediterranean, as long as we have the resources, and as long as we are able to act and we are not kicked out of the area", she said.

Salvini has repeatedly accused charities of working with human traffickers but said Italy would not stop rescuing migrant boats itself.

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.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen called for the boats to "return where they came from" and said charities rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean were "the accomplices of the people-trafficking mafia".

"No one should dare brand Italy or its government as inhumane or xenophobic", Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli said.

On Sunday, Italy had refused to allow the vessel to dock in its ports, demanding that Malta should take it in.

"Why do 629 people on Aquarius still have to suffer?"

Italy has taken in more than 600,000 migrants from the sea since 2014, according to Reuters, with about 13,706 sea arrivals so far this year - a significant decrease from recent years. Other EU states have largely ignored pleas by Rome to take in some of the newcomers and share the cost of their care, heightening anti-European and anti-migrant sentiment in Italy. His party, The League, is known for nationalist, anti-Islam and anti-immigrant views. "Italy has stopped bowing our heads and obeying", Salvini said in a Facebook post.

Migrants prepare to board the rescue ship Aquarius in the Mediterranean Sea, June 11, 2018. "There is a degree of cynicism and irresponsibility in the Italian government's behaviour", said French President Emmanuel Macron through a spokesman.

"If a boat had France as its closest coast, it could land", Griveaux said.

However, he added that Germany believes "particularly burdened countries, and Italy is of course one of them, must not be left alone" in dealing with Europe's migrant influx.

While Spain's willingness to take in the Aquarius has surprised many observers, for the new Spanish government "it does make political sense for several reasons" says the BBC's Guy Hedgecoe. His tweet concluded with the hashtag #chiudiamoiporti - which means "we're closing the ports" in Italian.

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