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13 June 2018, 09:03 | Erica Roy
Migrants remain at sea as Italy-Malta standoff intensifies
It will take the Aquarius about 10 days to make the trip to Spain and back, leaving the Dutch-flagged Sea Watch 3 alone off the coast of Libya - a staging ground for people smugglers - looking out for migrant boats in distress.
"This morning we will send ships and boats to take them to Spain", Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli told Radio Capital, adding that Italy had already sent fresh provisions to the Aquarius ahead of the voyage which could take three days. But he quoted Macron as telling Tuesday's weekly Cabinet meeting: "If any ship was closer to France's shores, it could obviously dock on the French coast".
But Italy can not simply expel hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrants without severe repression, and Italy doesn't yet have the agreements with many key countries of origin needed to facilitate returns.
The development comes a day after the new Spanish government headed by the Socialist prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, offered to allow the Aquarius to dock in Valencia, insisting it was an "obligation" to do so.
The 629 migrants were picked up off the coast of Libya last weekend by a boat run by migrant-aid group SOS Mediterranee but the Italian government on Sunday refused to allow the vessel to dock.
Italy's far-right interior minister, Matteo Salvini, who seems ready to vie even with his hero Donald Trump in cruelty toward the most vulnerable, declared victory on Monday in his campaign to defy worldwide law by refusing to accept more than 600 migrants rescued from the Mediterranean this weekend.
But the charity has a new and more pressing problem: Italy's new government.
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.
"Italy can not accept hypocritical lessons from countries that have always preferred to turn their backs when it comes to immigration", Conte said in a statement.
"Starting today Italy will begin to say NO to human trafficking, NO to the business of illegal immigration", Salvini wrote in a Facebook post.
"By closing their ports, Italy and Malta have not only turned their backs on more than 600 desperate and vulnerable people but also on their obligations under worldwide law", Elisa De Pieri, Amnesty International's Italy researcher, said in a statement.
Migrants aboard SOS Mediterranee's Aquarius ship after being rescued in the Mediterranean Sea, in a photo released by by French NGO "SOS Mediterranee". The group includes seven pregnant women, 123 unaccompanied minors and people suffering from burns caused from a mixture of seawater and fuel.
Under EU rules migrants must apply for asylum in the European country where they first arrive.
The Aquarius is one of the few remaining non-profit rescue ships left in the central Mediterranean, where so far this year 784 migrants have drowned during the crossing, according to figures from the United Nations Refugee Agency.
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