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The New Arab

More than 600 Mediterranean migrants stranded amid MSF ship 'standoff'

More than 600 rescued migrants are on board the Aquarius [Getty]

Date of publication: 11 June, 2018

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Italy and Malta have refused to allow a Doctors Without Borders rescue ship carrying 629 migrants to use their ports.
A Doctors Without Borders (MSF) boat carrying more than 600 rescued migrants is stranded between Italy and Malta after both countries refused to let them disembark.

The Aquarius, with 629 people on board, including 11 children and seven pregnant women rescued from six different missions, is 35 nautical miles from Italy and 27 nautical miles from Malta.

MSF tweeted late on Sunday that Italy had asked the Malta Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre to disembark all rescued people in Malta, amid reports the Italy had closed its ports to the Aquarius.

The Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Center told Aquarius on Sunday to "standby in [their] current position," MSF tweeted.

But Malta's Ministry for Home Affairs and National Security issued a statement saying it is not responsible for the rescue effort coordinated by the Aquarius.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat tweeted he had taken a call from his Italian counterpart Giuseppe Conte.

"Malta is in full conformity with international obligations & will not take the vessel in its ports. We will continue,where possible, carrying out individual&humanitarian emergency medical evacuations," Muscat tweeted.

In a separate tweet he added: "We are concerned at #Italy authorities' directions given to #Acquarius on high seas. They manifestly go against international rules, and risk creating a dangerous situation for all those involved."

Italy's hardline anti-immigration Interior Minister Matteo Salvini wrote on Facebook on Sunday morning that Italy was saying "no" to human trafficking, and attacked European neighbours for refusing migrants.

"In the Mediterranean Sea, there are boats carrying Dutch, Spanish, Gibraltar and British flags. There are NGO's from Spain and Germany, meanwhile there is also Malta that does not welcome anyone.

"There is France too, that refuses and pushes back at their border. There is Spain that protects their own borders with weapons, well, that means all of Europe is minding its own private interest," Salvini said.

"Starting today Italy will commence to say NO to human trafficking, NO to the business of clandestine immigration.
My objective is to guarantee a peaceful life to all these people in Africa and to our children in Italy."

On Twitter, MSF lashed out at the European leaders on their stance, saying "again politics are being placed above people's lives".
The UN's refugee office in Italy urged the countries to quickly find a solution.

"States and actors involved should rapidly find solutions to allow migrants and refugees on board the #Aquarius to disembark safely and quickly. Hundreds of people urgently need assistance, slowing down operations puts their well being at risk," it posted on Twitter.

The focal point for Mediterranean migration in recent years has been Italy, where more than 700,000 migrants have arrived since 2013.

More than 20,000 migrants have disappeared or died trying to cross the Mediterranean since 2014. Increasingly tight security along Europe's eastern borders has forced migrants to choose the more perilous sea journeys.

Libya has become a key transit point for sub-Saharan African migrants seeking to embark on dangerous journeys to Europe.

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