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

Planning request in County of Wetaskiwin changed at last minute

County of Wetaskiwin council balks at changes that weren’t made public

MLA Smith meets Harper, Scheer at Calgary Stampede

Thorsby alumnus Chad Harden competes at the big rodeo

Letter: P.M. needs to do real work

Wetaskiwin writer says apologizing isn’t a job

Breton RCMP seek motorist who may have witnessed crime

Breton RCMP requesting public assistance in identifying suspects of break and enter

County of Wetaskiwin officers deal with large road ban violations

County CPO notices erratic driver in Wetaskiwin

PHOTOS: B.C. city wakes up to darkness under wildfire smoke

The rest of the province also dealing with thick haze as smoky skies continue

Ponoka’s Ronnie Racing wins Hot August Night

About 15,000 people filled the Castrol Raceway stands at the motorsports complex

Vintage vehicle subject of RCMP search

Two Hills RCMP seek to identify owner of recovered 1940’s vehicle

Canada’s tax system unfairly favours wealthy, poll of CRA auditors suggests

Four of every five respondents think loopholes and tax credits built into the system benefit the rich

Banff’s Sunshine ski resort upset with proposed guidelines from Parks Canada

The plan would allow for more visitors but wouldn’t let Sunshine build additional facilities

Publication ban lifted on details about Fredericton shooting that killed 4

Judge lifts publication ban on court documents related to the Fredericton shooting

Feds to allow charities to engage in political, but not partisan, activity

The plan is to allow charities to pursue political activities

Trump suggests Canada has been sidelined from latest NAFTA negotiations

Canadian officials have insisted they’re unfazed by being left out of the discussions

Photographer files complaint with police after alleged assault on the job

Toronto photographer says he was attacked while covering a protest

Most Read