Italy shuts ports to migrant boat, asks Malta to open its doors

The agency's special envoy for migrants in the Mediterranean, Vincent Cochetel, underscored that "people are in distress, are running out of provisions and need help quickly".

European charity SOS Mediterranee said on Twitter earlier on Sunday that its rescue boat Aquarius had taken on board 629 migrants, including 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 other children and seven pregnant women.

Salvini appears to be using this latest migrant incident to assert that Italy can no longer be left alone to deal with the continuous flow of migrants arriving by sea, mostly from Africa, and that he expects other European countries to share the burden in future.

Italy's closed its ports to the ship and said it should dock in Malta where Prime Minister Joseph Muscat insists worldwide law determines Italy is responsible for them.

The reason Italy refused to accept the migrants despite the fact the majority of them were rescued by the Italian authorities is a political one, Dr Wolff added.

Matteo Salvini, the leader of the far-right League party, said Malta should take in the ship, the Aquarius, but his request was rejected.

After Sanchez's move, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte thanked Spain - as did Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat while also blaming Italy for the ship's prolonged journey.

Salvini's migration policies may well face challenges not only from Italy's vibrant civil society groups but also in the courts and from European Union institutions.

The League had promised voters during recent elections that it would take a tough stance on immigration. On Sunday evening, he posted an image of himself on Twitter with his arms crossed above the message, "We are closing the ports", rendered as an Italian hashtag.

SOS Mediterranee spokeswoman Mathilde Auvillain said the ship was "heading north following instructions received after the rescues and transfers" on Saturday night.

Italy has called on Mediterranean neighbour, the island of Malta, to open its doors to the vessel.

The mayors of two Spanish cities had also offered to receive the boat, Reuters reports.

"If the country has control over the ship and there are migrants in dire straights aboard and no agreement with another state to take them can be found, they should not delay but accept them", Doyle said.

The agency was sent questions to assess whether any of the countries were violating their obligations to Frontex or any other global agreements, and at which port should the migrants disembark.

The same day, Italian authorities held the migrant rescue boat Sea-Watch 3 for 12 hours after it brought 232 people to Reggio Calabria, on the south-western tip of the mainland. But Italy can not simply expel hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrants without severe repression, and Italy doesn't yet have the agreements with many key countries of origin needed to facilitate returns.

The migrants were rescued in six separate nighttime operations in the central Mediterranean on Saturday.

The Maltese prime minister also expressed concern over the Italian authorities' directions given to the Acquarius vessel, adding that such policies contradicted global norms, and might lead to unsafe developments. Those incidents delayed the migrants' arrival, but they ultimately made it to Italy.

  • Joey Payne