In Brief

Why Italy has closed its ports to a migrant rescue ship

629 people stranded at sea after Italy says Malta should take them in

Italy has refused to let a humanitarian ship carrying more than 600 people rescued from the Mediterranean dock at its ports, saying Malta should open its port to the vessel.

The MV Aquarius, a search and rescue ship run in partnership between SOS Mediterranee and Medecins Sans Frontieres, has been told by Italian authorities to stand by in its current position, 35 nautical miles from Italy and 27 nautical miles from Malta.

The BBC reports that among those on board are “123 unaccompanied minors, 11 younger children and seven pregnant women”.

Why has Italy closed its ports to the migrants?

The move by Italy’s new interior minister and leader of the far-right League, Matteo Salvini, is an “opening gambit to make good on his electoral promises to halt the flow of migrants into the country”, Reuters says.

“Malta takes in nobody. France pushes people back at the border, Spain defends its frontier with weapons,” Salvini wrote on Facebook. “From today, Italy will also start to say no to human trafficking, no to the business of illegal immigration.”

Will Malta accept the ship?

Salvini, in a joint statement with Italian coastguard minister Danilo Toninelli, insisted that Malta “cannot continue to look the other way when it comes to respecting precise international conventions on the protection of human life.”

A spokesman for the Maltese government told AFP that “the rescue of the migrants took place in the Libyan search and rescue area and was headed up by the rescue coordination centre in Rome, meaning Malta has no legal obligation to take in the migrants”.

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