Italy refuses to take in migrants from Aquarius ship

Leroy Wright
August 16, 2018

SOS Mediterranee in a statement said that because of the recent refusal of Italy and Malta to let rescue vessels carrying migrants dock, ships might be now unwilling to get involved fearing they will be stranded with migrants aboard and denied a port to disembark them.

MSF and SOS Mediterranee said European policies that hinder the provision of humanitarian assistance have resulted in a skyrocketing number of deaths at sea in recent months.

The Gibraltar government said in a statement the ship could no longer fly a Gibraltar flag from August 20 and should revert back to the "underlying owners' flag", which is Germany.

"At this point, the United Kingdom should assume its responsibility to safeguard the castaways", the minister, from the populist Five Star Movement, said on Twitter Monday.

The Aquarius faced a similar issue in June, when it rescued 630 migrants and delivered them to Spain - again after Malta and Italy declined to accept them.

Migrants are seen resting on board of the MV Aquarius rescue ship run by SOS Mediterranee organisation and Doctors Without Borders during a search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean Sea, off the Libyan Coast, Aug 12, 2018. The other 116 people, including 67 unaccompanied minors, were rescued later that day, it said.

Receive IOL's top stories via Whatsapp by sending your name to 0745573535. It is the only rescue ship in the area of the Mediterranean where migrants' vessels are known to capsize.

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"Aquarius has now reached a standby position exactly between Malta and Italy and is awaiting further guidance", MSF said in a tweet.

Almost three-quarters of those rescued originate from Somalia and Eritrea.

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who is also one of the country's two deputy prime ministers, also took to Twitter on Monday to say that the Aquarius "can go wherever it wants, [but] not to Italy". Many migrants recounted how they were "held in inhumane conditions in Libya", where human traffickers are based, the aid group aid.

Malta was neither the coordinating nor the competent authority for such a rescue, and therefore has no legal obligation to make the arrangements to provide for a place of safety.

One of the smugglers' boats, a small wooden craft with 25 migrants, appears to have been at sea for almost 35 hours, the groups said.

However this time a Spanish government source told AFP that, as Spain is not the nearest port, "it is not the safest port" for the migrant ship to dock.

The criminalisation and obstruction of humanitarian organisations reflects the larger problem of a broken European asylum system and the failure of the EU member states to relocate asylum seekers who arrive in Europe.

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