Italy in an­other mi­grant boat stand-off with Malta

Gulf Times - - EUROPE -

Italy has urged Malta to go to the aid of an over­crowded boat car­ry­ing hun­dreds of mi­grants, only hours af­ter the Ital­ian pres­i­dent in­ter­vened to end a dis­pute within the rul­ing coali­tion over res­cued im­mi­grants.

There have been two sim­i­lar stand-offs with Malta since Italy’s new pop­ulist gov­ern­ment, which pairs the far-right League party with the anti-es­tab­lish­ment 5-Star Move­ment (M5S), took power on June 1.

In­te­rior Min­is­ter Mat­teo Salvini, who is also leader of the League, said that Italy would not take in the mi­grants be­cause they were Malta’s re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Malta, a small is­land na­tion, has gen­er­ally re­fused to take in large num­bers of boat mi­grants.

Italy has seen more than 650,000 ar­rivals on its shores since 2014.

“Since this morn­ing a large boat with 450 il­le­gal im­mi­grants on board has been in waters pa­trolled by Malta, which has taken re­spon­si­bil­ity for it,” Salvini wrote on Face­book.

The boats also of­ten carry refugees, as did one with some 30 Syr­i­ans who were picked up by the Ital­ian coast guard ear­lier yes­ter­day.

They were taken to the is­land of Lampe­dusa.

Salvini added: “But hours later no one has moved, and the boat is again head­ing to­ward Italy ... this boat can­not and must not ar­rive.”

Min­utes later, Trans­port Min­is­ter Danilo Toninelli, who is a mem­ber of M5S, also urged Malta to act.

“Ac­cord­ing to the mar­itime law, it’s Malta that must send its own ships and open its own ports,” he said on Twit­ter. “Our coast guard can act, if needed, in sup­port, but Malta should im­me­di­ately do its duty.”

A spokesman said the Mal­tese gov­ern­ment is fol­low­ing de­vel­op­ments, but had no fur­ther com­ment.

The large boats are par­tic­u­larly dan­ger­ous be­cause they have of­ten cap­sized in the past, trap­ping hun­dreds of peo­ple be­low deck as they sink.

Since tak­ing of­fice, Salvini has led a high-pro­file cam­paign to shut hu­man­i­tar­ian res­cue ships out of Italy’s ports, a move sup­ported by M5S.

But the League leader’s hard­line im­mi­gra­tion stance ran­kled his coali­tion al­lies this week.

On Thurs­day, Salvini had re­fused to al­low 67 mi­grants brought by the coun­try’s coast guard to a Si­cil­ian port to dis­em­bark – even though Toninelli, who over­sees the coast guard, had told them they could.

Mak­ing a rare foray into dayto-day pol­i­tics, Pres­i­dent Ser­gio Mattarella con­tacted Prime Min­is­ter Giuseppe Conte late on Thurs­day to ex­press his con­cern about the plight of mi­grants on the coast guard ves­sel.

Af­ter re­ceiv­ing Mattarella’s phone call, Conte, an aca­demic who is close to M5S but not a mem­ber of ei­ther party, or­dered the mi­grants be al­lowed off the ship.

Salvini said that he had learned of the pres­i­dent’s move with “re­gret and amaze­ment”.

Now Salvini and Toninelli, whose par­ties were ri­vals be­fore the March na­tional elec­tions, ap­pear to be on the same page again.

The League and M5S have pledged to crack­down on mi­gra­tion even though ar­rivals from Libya, where peo­ple smug­glers op­er­ate with im­punity, are down more than 85% this year.

Though ar­rivals have plum­meted, peo­ple are still dy­ing at sea.

In the past four weeks, since char­ity boats have been locked out of Ital­ian ports, more than 600 peo­ple, in­clud­ing chil­dren, have drowned or gone miss­ing at sea, the In­ter­na­tional Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Mi­gra­tion es­ti­mates.

Mi­grants stand on the bridge of Italy’s Di­ciotti coast guard ves­sel, car­ry­ing 67 asy­lum-seek­ers, berthed yes­ter­day at Tra­pani port.

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