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Italy acting with 'cynicism' toward migrant ship: French government spokesman

13 June 2018

The head of the French charity which charters the Aquarius migrant rescue ship said Tuesday that it would continue its operations despite the worldwide standoff over the 629 people now onboard.

As soon as the decision was made, Italy's Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini of the right-wing, anti-immigration League, sent out a message on Twitter: "VICTORY!"

"Malta takes in nobody", he added.

Despite the claim by Mayor Orlando that the government stands in opposition to worldwide law by closing the ports to migrant smuggling operations, a distinguished expert on global maritime law Admiral Paolo Caffio has given his verdict, stating that not only is it legal, but there is also precedent, reports Il Giornale.

Spain offered its Port of Valencia as a safe harbor for the migrants, but it will take several days before the Aquarius reaches port.

Although Spain offered safe harbour to the boat and the 629 migrants on board, the episode has raised questions about a country's legal obligations towards those rescued at sea.

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"The rescues will continue and it is crucial that European countries talk amongst themselves to find acceptable solutions" to bring to shore migrants stranded in the Mediterranean, she said.

"In the Mediterranean.there's Malta that does now welcome anyone, there is France that rejects [refugees] at its borders, there's Spain that defends its borders with the arms".

The head of the anti-immigrant party, the League, Salvini has positioned himself as the strongman in the unlikely coalition government recently formed with the ideologically fungible Five Star Movement.

But Malta and Italy - whose new populist government has vowed a tough new stance on immigration - have both refused to take the migrants in, triggering concern in the worldwide community about their plight.

Not everyone in Italy agreed with the government action, and the mayors of a number of southern cities, including Naples, Palermo and Messina, said they would welcome the migrants.

Some in Italy have offered to take in migrants.

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"If we can't rely on getting relief in any of those ports, I personally say we can't go back out" for additional missions, said Klaus Stadler, the captain of a rescue boat operated by the German NGO Sea-Eye.

In a strongly worded statement, Premier Giuseppe Conte's office said "Italy can not accept hypocritical lessons from countries that on the topic of immigration have always preferred to turn their heads".

Italy's new, far-right interior minister, Matteo Salvini, looking to make good on election campaign promises to crack down on illegal immigration, closed the country's ports to the Aquarius on Sunday saying other European Union states should step in.

The ship has enough water on board but would begin running out of food by this evening, he said. On board are 629 migrants, including 123 unaccompanied minors and seven pregnant women. "(We) call for people's safety to come before politics".

Salvini pointed to Malta's unwillingness in accusing Europe as a whole of leaving Italy on its own to deal with the refugee crisis. "We need to know who is arriving", a local man, Salvo Cavallaro said, "these 600 people, we don't know who they are".

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Italy acting with 'cynicism' toward migrant ship: French government spokesman