Italy's Far-Right Government Leaves Hundreds Of Migrants Stranded At Sea

Italy's Far-Right Government Leaves Hundreds Of Migrants Stranded At Sea

Italy yesterday said it would not accept "hypocritical lessons" from countries like France on migrants, in a growing row over 629 people stranded in the Mediterranean to whom Rome refused entry.

The ship, with 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 other children and seven pregnant women aboard, is waiting in global waters between Italy and Malta, which has also refused to take them in.

The stand-off will help Mediterranean EU states like Italy, Spain and Malta who have been on the geographic frontline of the migrant influx to raise pressure on EU partners further north ahead of a June 28-29 summit that will, in part, consider changes to EU asylum law to better share the burden of incoming migrants.

The migrants were rescued in six separate night-time operations in the central Mediterranean on Saturday.

Sanchez went on say that "It is our duty to help avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and offer a safe harbour to these people in accordance with global law".

In a statement late on Sunday, the government said Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, and the Prime Minister of Italy, Giuseppe Conte, had a telephone conversation on the developing situation of the vessel Acquarius.

"Italy can not accept hypocritical lessons from countries that have preferred to look the other way on immigration", the new populist government said in statement initially reported by Italian media and then confirmed by government representatives to AFP.

Malta on Sunday reiterated its refusal to accept the ship, ignoring calls from Rome.

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Sophie Beau, head of French charity SOS Mediterranee, which charters the vessel, said its 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". The rescue ship's crew itself pulled 229 migrants from the water or from traffickers' unseaworthy boats Saturday night, including 123 unaccompanied minors and seven pregnant women.

But it was not clear if the offer would be taken up given that the trip would expose the migrants to several more days at sea.

French President Emmanuel Macron denounced the decision to block the Aquarius, operated by the Franco-German charity SOS Mediterranne, saying global law obligated Italy to take in the migrants. "From today, Italy will also start to say no to human trafficking, no to the business of illegal immigration", he wrote on Facebook.

The regional leader of Spain's Basque Country, Inigo Urkullu, said the region was prepared to take care of 10 percent of the passengers.

In the meantime, some in Italy have offered to take in the migrants, with the mayor of Taranto, Rinaldo Melucci, saying that the southern port city was "ready to embrace every life in danger".

The IOM and other humanitarian organizations argue it is not fair that a country such as Italy, which tends to be the first port of call, be responsible for the thousands of migrants that land on its shores.

European Union law requires asylum seekers register in the first safe country they reach.

They were also concerned the vessel, which was built to transport just 500 people, could not safely carry all 629 of those rescued at sea.

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