Italy shuts ports to rescue ship carrying 629 migrants

Italy shuts ports to rescue ship carrying 629 migrants

On Monday afternoon, Spain offered to take the ship.

Italy's hardline interior minister Matteo Salvini insisted that Malta "cannot continue to look the other way when it comes to respecting precise worldwide conventions on the protection of human life".

Mr Salvini says he wants to "stop the death boats". "This time there's someone saying no".

"Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat thanked Sanchez and said Italy had "(broken) worldwide rules and caused a standoff".

In a stark sign that the city mayors were running against public opinion, the drama over the migrant ship came as the votes were counted for Sunday's Italian local elections in which left-wing, open borders parties show signs of faltering while the populist, anti-mass migration League party stands to make the biggest gains.

The number of people attempting to cross the Mediterranean from northern Africa or Turkey has fallen sharply, largely as a result of two controversial deals: one struck in March 2016 between the European Union and Turkey - under which Syrian refugees arriving in Greece from Turkey are sent back - and another made previous year between Italy and Libya, in which the southern European country pledged to bolster Libya's coast guard so it could spot departing migrant boats and house migrants attempting to cross. The island nation has reduced the number of migrants it has taken in over the past decade, from a high of 2,775 in 2008 to just 23 previous year, according to U.N. statistics.

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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. The migrants were bottled in Italy when northern neighbours, including France and Switzerland, closed their borders to new arrivals.

An anti-immigrant sentiment was a large part of the politician's campaign strategy - he vowed to expel hundreds of thousands of migrants already in the country. In his first address to the parliament, PM Conte promised his government would steer the country to solve this problem that "has grown out of all proportion under the cloak of fake solidarity". Salvini had earlier issued a joint statement with Italian Transportation Minister Danilo Toninelli of the 5-Star Movement, saying Malta "cannot continue to look the other way when it comes to respecting precise global conventions on the protection of human life".

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.

More than 600,000 migrants and refugees have reached Italy by boat from Africa in the past five years. The ship, carrying more than 600 people, has been unable to dock. That agreement is thought to have involved payments to certain Libyan authorities and strongmen.

"It means that we need at least two more days of sailing, which is not possible today with 629 people on board", SOS Mediterranee Maritime Operations Manager Antoine Laurent said.

As the rhetoric intensified, the Aquarius remained on standby in the Mediterranean Sea with its 629 passengers, including 123 unaccompanied minors. He has previously accused them of being in cahoots with people-smugglers. By Sunday, it held enough food to feed all the passengers for roughly 48 hours.

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