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Italy prepares Spanish migrant convoy, faces French criticism

13 June 2018
Italy prepares Spanish migrant convoy, faces French criticism

ROME-Hundreds of migrants whose boat was denied entry to Italy will be transported to Spain aboard Italian coast guard and navy vessels, a potential resolution to an incident the new Italian government has used to highlight its tough stance on migration.

Migrants stand shoulder to shoulder aboard SOS Mediterranee's Aquarius ship in the Mediterranean Sea in an image released on Monday. But the Aquarius is heavily overcrowded, making the four-day trip to Spain particularly perilous.

Despite his refusal to accept Aquarius, the Italian Coast Guard ship Diciotto, carrying 937 migrants, was expected to dock in Sicily Tuesday or Wednesday.

"It's our duty to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and offer a secure port for these people", Sanchez said.

After slamming Mr Simeoni over his offer to help the migrants, Mr Ciotti took a swipe at Madrid, saying that Spain had made a "mistake" by saying that the drifting ship could dock at one of its ports.

At around 4:30pm on Tuesday, the Sea Watch 3 said it was heading towards a shipwreck 20 miles from Libya in which 12 migrants were killed.

"This happens, if there are not enough rescue assets in place and a safe passage is absent", the NGO said.

The outgoing Democratic Party government had already intensified cooperation with Libyan authorities to stop departures and enable Libyan coast guard forces to intercept migrant boats in worldwide waters and take people back to horrific conditions in arbitrary detention in Libya.

The country refuses to take in migrants because of its small size.

Problems for the Aquarius began when Italy's Matteo Salvini, recently appointed as interior minister as part of a new right-wing government, closed the country's ports to the boat, after promising voters he would crack down on immigration.

He said Malta should accept the Aquarius instead, but the government in Valletta said the rescued migrants fall under Italy's jurisdiction, as they were picked up the migrants in Libyan waters.

Hungary's radically anti-immigrant prime minister praised Salvini's move.

He said at a news conference on Monday: "We want to put an end to this human trafficking".

Salvini, the leader of the right wing League party, is for now the most prominent voice in Italy's new government.

"No French port, not Corsica, not Nice, not Marseille", he told CNews. "Will power has returned to Italy".

The migrants have been at the heart of a standoff between Malta and Italy after both countries refused to allow the Aquarius to dock.

The Sea Watch met the Trenton and was asked to pick up the survivors and bodies, but the group refused to bring them on board without a written guarantee from Italy.

The Maltese Rescue Coordination Centre "is neither the competent nor the coordinating authority", the statement said. "We can not go to Spain". Several migrants had water in their lungs, suffered hypothermia or burns from a mix of boat fuel and seawater while in their traffickers' boats.

Medical workers said food on board the ship would run out by Monday night as the boat and its passengers, including 123 unaccompanied children and seven pregnant women, was stuck in the Mediterranean Sea.

"This plan would mean already exhausted rescued people would endure 4 more days travel at sea", the group, also known as MSF, said a few hours later.

Porro said: "At the moment we are like an ambulance that has been stopped and we don't know where to go".