Rescue vessel #Aquarius refused permission to dock in Italy (updated)

A ship carrying 629 people rescued from the Mediterranean has been refused permission to dock in an Italian port. The BBC report:

A rescue vessel carrying 629 migrants is stranded in the Mediterranean after Italy’s new interior minister refused permission for it to dock. Matteo Salvini, leader of the right-wing League, said Malta should accept the Aquarius … Malta says the German charity SOS Méditerranée picked up the migrants in Libyan waters, which means they fall under Italy’s jurisdiction. The League promised voters during Italy’s recent general election that it would take a tough stance on immigration.

SOS Méditerranée run the Aquarius ship and explain that their passengers were rescued during six different operations off the coast of Libya.

Update: Spain’s prime minister has said his country will give “safe harbour” to the Aquarius: “It is our duty to help avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and offer a safe port to these people, to comply with our human rights obligations.”

The Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre has instructed the Aquarius to standby in their current position, 35 nautical miles off the coast of Italy and 27 nautical miles from Malta.

The Italian office of UNHCR said:

“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 wellbeing at risk.”

The charity which operates the Aquarius tweeted that nearly half of the migrants had been rescued by Italian coastguard or navy vessels.

Journalist Anelise Borges is on board the Aquarius and is tweeting out regular updates and video reports about developments and the ship’s position.

Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini wrote on Facebook at the weekend saying:

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

Increased deportation of migrants is a proposed policy of the new Italian government. The interior minister believes that organisations rescuing migrants at sea are in cahoots with people-smugglers.

The Times report [paywall] that “a poll at the weekend showed that 37 per cent of Italians approved of the government’s promised crackdown on migrants, making it the coalition’s most popular policy.”

It’s a frightening situation. Vulnerable people fleeing their country are caught up as pawns in political games inside and between European states. Safe Passage and Humanitarian Corridors continue to be at best low level and at worst ignored solutions to alleviate dangerous crossings and suffering at the hands of traffickers.


Photo credit: SOS Méditerranée