Italy's new leaders get tough on migrants; Spain steps up

Blanche Robertson
June 13, 2018

"Keeping the rescued people at sea is not, of itself, going to dissuade other migrants from crossing to Europe and they too will need to be rescued sooner or later", he added.

File Image of MV Aquarius, a search and rescue ship.

The passengers, with many migrants from Sudan among them, were apparently unaware of they had become pawns of sorts in Europe's new political equilibrium.

The refugees will be taken to Spain's Valencia port with the help of two Italian ships.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who took office just over a week ago, has given instructions for the boat to be admitted to the eastern port of Valencia after Italy and Malta refused to let it dock.

The rescue ship was stranded this weekend after Italy and Malta refused to allow it to dock.

A little more than a week ago, Italy's new interior minister, Matteo Salvini, told a crowd that "Italy and Sicily can not be Europe's refugee camp" and "the good times for illegals are over", Deutsche Welle reports.

For those aboard the Aquarius, Spain's offer of docking rights at the port of Valencia was welcome news, although it did not provide a quick or easy solution.

Matteo Salvini, the minister of the interior and the leader of the right-wing League party, said in a statement that "rescuing lives is a duty, transforming Italy into an enormous refugee camp is not".

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Italy on Tuesday threatened to cancel a summit with France after Paris strongly criticized an Italian decision to close its ports to a vessel carrying more than 600 migrants, according to Italian media.

In a strongly worded statement, Premier Giuseppe Conte's office said "Italy can not accept hypocritical lessons from countries that on the topic of immigration have always preferred to turn their heads". "Italy has stopped bowing its head and obeying, this time THERE IS SOMEONE WHO SAYS NO. #chiudiamoiporti (#weareclosingtheports)", Salvini wrote on Twitter, as quoted by the Ansa news agency.

"By closing their ports, Italy and Malta have not only turned their backs on more than 600 desperate and vulnerable people but also on their obligations under worldwide law", Elisa De Pieri, Amnesty International's Italy researcher, said in a statement.

"Particularly seven pregnant woman, 15 with serious chemical burns and several critical drowning hypothermia patients", MSF Sea said.

"There are more than 600 people onboard, they are exhausted, they want to get to safety, there is, of course, a lot of tension among them because they are not sure what is going to happen", she added.

Malta also blocked the boat access to its shores, before Spain yesterday agreed to welcome the migrants.

Humanitarian groups said the decision is putting politics before people's safety, forcing them to endure further hardship after an already harrowing journey from north Africa.

"If we can't rely on getting relief in any of those ports, I personally say we can't go back out" for additional missions, said Klaus Stadler, the captain of a rescue boat operated by the German NGO Sea-Eye.

The move was widely condemned by humanitarian groups, with reports that mayors across southern Italy, including in Palermo and Naples, had pledged to defy Salvini's move and open up their city's ports to the ship.

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