Italy sends two ships to help bring 629 migrants to Spain

Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini threatened to bar rescue ships from docking in the country's ports after Malta refused to take hundreds of migrants

Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini threatened to bar rescue ships from docking in the country's ports after Malta refused to take hundreds of migrants

The Aquarius will carry around 100 immigrants to their new destination, while the rest will be transferred to two additional vessels from Italy's Coast Guard and Navy.

It's not yet clear what Salvini and the new government have in mind, but it's worth remembering that the League's Roberto Maroni was interior minister in 2009 when Italy implemented its nefarious policy of literally pushing boats back to Libya.

Salvini had initially asked Malta to take in the Aquarius, but the government in Valletta said the issue was not its responsibility and accused Italy of "creating a unsafe situation".

"Given the location of the ship and the urgency, my opinion is that it would be natural to open a Corsican port to help those people in distress", President of Corsican Assembly Jean-Guy Talamoni, tweeted on Monday evening.

"This morning we will send ships and boats to take them to Spain", Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli told Radio Capital, adding that Italy had already sent fresh provisions to the Aquarius ahead of the voyage which could take three days.

Italy has been the main entry point for Europe-bound migrants since 2015, and even previous interior ministers - more moderate than Salvini - complained about insufficient help from European Union allies.

The charity's spokesperson, Mathilde Auvillain, said the ship had received orders to head north and was now awaiting "definitive instructions".

Migrants aboard SOS Mediterranee's Aquarius ship after being rescued in the Mediterranean Sea, in a photo released by by French NGO "SOS Mediterranee", on June 11, 2018.

He suggested that Malta should accept the Aquarius, but it refused arguing that it fell under Italy's jurisdiction.

Italy plans to transfer some migrants crammed aboard a charity boat onto other vessels on Tuesday and then sail them all to Spain, despite appeals from humanitarian groups to let the group land immediately.

It singled out France, whose leader earlier was quoted as calling Italy's response "cynical", as having adopted migrant arrivals policies "much more rigid and cynical".

"This shows what happens when there are not enough rescue assets at sea", Sea Watch spokesman Ruben Neugebauer said.

"Our objective is the disembarkation in a port of safety of the 629 people now on board the Aquarius - some we rescued yesterday night in hard conditions", she was quoted by Reuters as saying.

The Aquarius, a rescue vessel operated by aid group SOS Mediterranee, has been stuck in the Mediterranean Sea since Saturday, when Italy refused its crew permission to dock and demanded that Malta do so.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which is operating the Aquarius alongside SOS Mediterranne, urged a rethink.

Italy's refusal at the weekend marks the first major anti-migrant move since far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini took office this month promising to crack down on illegal immigration.

But the charity's 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", she said.

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

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