Fate of 450 migrants in balance amid new Italy-Malta standoff

Blanche Robertson
July 15, 2018

The fishing vessel contained 450 migrants and was reportedly heading towards a tiny island off Sicily.

But Malta said the ship was closer to the Italian island of Lampedusa and insisted those on board only wanted to reach Italy.

France and Malta have agreed to host 50 people each, responding to a request for help sent by Italy after it took part in the rescue of 450 migrants from an overcrowded ship in the Mediterranean, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said.

The Maltese interior ministry also said that the migrants aboard the vessel meant to proceed to Italy.

Italy's far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who is leading a high-profile campaign to exclude humanitarian rescue ships from Italian ports, had insisted earlier on Saturday that the migrants could not land in Italy.

'We already have given, you understand'.

The migrants had initially set sail from Libya in a single wooden vessel which was identified early Friday while passing through waters under Malta's jurisdiction.

Last month Malta was forced to take the German NGO boat Lifeline carrying over 234 migrants, just days after a standoff between the island nation and Italy led to the French rescue ship Aquarius being diverted and taking 630 people to Spain.

Air strike kills 28 civilians in IS-held part of Syria: monitor
The nearby town of Albu Kamal, on the western bank of the Euphrates, was retaken by Syrian government forces in December. The jihadists hold a corner of territory in Daraa on the border with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

The tug's captain had told the Italian coast guard that the migrants were threatening the crew after it appeared the tug would turn them over to the Libyan coast guard.

Italian prosecutors are investigation the alleged threats. An Italian coast guard ship has docked in Sicily but is still awaiting permission to disembark its 67 migrants, after two of them were accused of threatening their rescuers if they were taken back to Libya.

In this photo taken on Thursday, July 12, 2018, some of the 67 migrants rescued at sea by the Vos Thalassa freighter disembark from the Italian Coast Guard ship Diciotti, in the Sicilian port of Trapani, southern Italy.

Aid officials say migrants who are being returned to Libya are at risk of facing abuse, rape, beatings and slavery.

Two African migrants were escorted off the Diciotti Thursday night by Italian police.

Earlier this week, the Interior Minister joined his hardline German and Austrian counterparts in sending a stern warning over the implementation of their radical proposals to tackle illegal immigration at the European Union external borders.

The other migrants, including young children and women then came down the gangway to be taken to a centre for identification.

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