Global News

Italian mayors rebel against Salvini’s order to block migrant ship

Italian mayors rebel against Salvini’s order to block migrant ship

The European Union is appealing to Italy and Malta to quickly work out - for humanitarian reasons - where a ship carrying more than 600 rescued migrants should dock.

Mr Salvini and Transportation Minister Danilo Toninelli, who is part of the 5-Star Movement faction in the new government, said in a joint statement that it was Malta's responsibility to "open its ports for the hundreds of the rescued on the NGO ship Aquarius".

More than 6,00,000 refugees from Africa have reached Italy in the past five years. Numbers have dropped dramatically in recent months, but rescues have increased in recent days, presenting Mr Salvini with his first test as minister.

It said in a statement that the Aquarius took on the passengers in waters controlled by Libya and where Italian authorities in Rome coordinate search-and-rescue operations.

Salvini, leader of the far-right League, said Malta should let the Aquarius dock but he was rejected. "My goal is to guarantee a peaceful life for these children in Africa and for our children in Italy", Salvini tweeted Sunday using the hashtag "We are shutting the ports".

However, Mr Salvini does not have authority over the ports and it was not immediately clear if his edict would hold.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said Italy's refusal to allow the Aquarius ship to dock at an Italian port risks "creating a risky situation for all those involved". The vessel with 123 unaccompanied minors and seven pregnant women on board is stranded in the Mediterranean Sea.

Left-wing mayor Luigi De Magistris said he would welcome in the humanitarian boat and added: "Naples is ready, without funds, to save lives".




"The island can not continue looking the other way when it comes to respecting worldwide conventions", said the statement, which was signed by Salvini and Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli, who is nominally in charge of the ports.

The Maltese Rescue Coordination Center "is neither the competent nor the coordinating authority", the statement said.

In a statement issued Monday afternoon, the Spanish government said that "The prime minister has given instructions so that Spain can fulfil its worldwide humanitarian crisis commitments and has announced that the Aquarius will be welcomed into a Spanish port. We will not stop now", Leoluca Orlando, the mayor of Palermo, said.

The official, who asked not to be identified, said that Italy would not open its ports to the NGO's vessel, according to the Reuters news agency. He noted that other European countries are very much involved in current rescue operations in the Mediterranean - including a German aid group now off Libya - but no country is stepping up to actually take in the migrants.

The United Nations says at least 785 migrants have died crossing the sea so far this year.

Salvini pointed to Malta's unwillingness in accusing Europe as a whole of leaving Italy on its own to deal with the refugee crisis.

On Friday, he suggested North Atlantic Treaty Organisation intervene to protect Italy, saying the country is "under attack from the south".


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