Migrants remain at sea as Italy-Malta standoff escalates

Italy-Malta refused to let a rescue ship with 629 people aboard dock in their ports

Italy and Malta dug in for a second day Monday and refused to let a rescue ship with 629 people aboard dock in their ports, leaving the migrants at sea as a diplomatic standoff escalated under Italy’s new anti-immigrant government.

“Enough!” said Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini. “Saving lives is a duty, but transforming Italy into an enormous refugee camp isn’t.”

He tweeted: #Chiudiamoiporti. “We’re closing the ports.”

Maltese Premier Joseph Muscat also refused to take in the Aquarius ship of the humanitarian group SOS Mediterranee. He accused Italy, which co-ordinated the rescue, of violating international norms governing sea rescues.

Italy’s position, Muscat said, risks “creating a dangerous situation for all those involved.”

As the rhetoric intensified, the Aquarius remained on standby in the Mediterranean Sea with its 629 passengers, including 123 unaccompanied minors and seven pregnant women. The ship said it had been ordered by Italy’s coast guard co-ordinationcentre late Sunday to remain 35 miles off Italy and 27 miles from Malta.

RELATED: FIFA World Cup preview: France, Denmark poised to push through Group C

The migrants had been rescued during a series of operations Saturday by Italian maritime ships, cargo vessels and the Aquarius itself. All passengers were offloaded to the Aquarius to be taken to land.

Doctors Without Borders, which has staff aboard the Aquarius, tweeted a video of some of the women aboard the ship praying Monday morning and said they were unaware of the diplomatic drama being waged on land over their fate.

“Thank you Lord,” the women sang. The group said it “urgently requests a swift resolution and a designated port of safety.”

The standoff marked the first inevitable clash over migrant rescues with League leader Salvini, now running Italy’s interior ministry. Salvini campaigned on an anti-immigrant platform that also included a vow to expel hundreds of thousands of migrants already in Italy, even though experts doubt such mass deportations are feasible or financially viable.

Malta, for its part, has consistently refused to take in migrants, citing its small size and limited capacities.

The island nation has progressively reduced the number of migrants it has taken in over the past decade, from a high of 2,775 in 2008 to just 23 last year, according to U.N. statistics.

Salvini pointed to Malta’s unwillingness in accusing Europe as a whole of leaving Italy on its own to deal with the refugee crisis. He noted that other European countries are very much involved in current rescue operations in the Mediterranean — including a German aid group currently off Libya — but no country is stepping up to actually take in the migrants.

“Italy has stopped bowing our heads and obeying,” Salvini said in a Facebook post. “This time we say no.”

The standoff is actually the third in recent weeks, after the outgoing government of Premier Paolo Gentiloni refused to let humanitarian aid groups dock in Italian ports until the ships’ flag nations had formally requested permission. Those incidents delayed the migrants’ arrival, but they ultimately made it to Italy.

The Associated Press

Just Posted

Kazakstan’s U20 team takes 4-3 win over Langley university squad

Thursday night’s game is one of three the visitors are playing at the Langley Events Centre.

VIDEO: Langley realtor builds holiday party for kids

Realtor Matthew Rufh hosted a gingerbread house-building party for the Langley Boys and Girls Club.

Charges pending for driver who sped away from police in Langley, crashed

A simple traffic stop escalated into a pileup on 56th Avenue.

Giants defenceman Byram headed to NHL prospects game

The young player is following in the footsteps of former Giant Ty Ronning.

Langley Rams receiver inks with BC Lions

Jevon Cottoy joined the Rams this season and now has a multi-year contract with the Lions.

VIDEO: Sto:lo artist and UFV instructors create award-winning gingerbread house

Chilliwack team wins Vancouver competition with Coast Salish design, solid recipe and laser cuts

MAP: Christmas light displays in the Lower Mainland

Send us pictures of your National Lampoon-style lit-up homes, nativity scenes or North Pole playlands

Family searching for B.C. professor last seen at Colombian salsa club

Ramazan Gencay, a professor in economics at Simon Fraser University, was last seen in Medellin

Rash of bomb threats a learning opportunity for response capacity, Goodale

Thursday’s wave of bomb threats swept across communities on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border

Swap food for fines at Fraser Valley Regional Library

From Dec. 14 through Jan. 22, library patrons can “pay” their fines while helping local food banks

Mike Duffy can’t sue Senate over suspension without pay, judge rules

Duffy’s lawsuit sought more than $7.8 million from the upper chamber

Surrey mayor says city won’t repay $56M spent on LRT, but might pony up $40M in land transfers

There will be no tax increase for Surrey residents resulting from this, McCallum confirms

Language on Sikh extremism in report will be reviewed, Goodale says

A public-safety ministry document indicats terrorist threats to Canada included a section on Sikh extremism for the first time

Questions raised over retailers who shame shoplifters with photos

Alleged theft from a sex shop in Newfoundland led to posts on social media

Most Read