Italy bans more migrant rescue boats

AFP , Saturday 16 Jun 2018

Migrants are seen as they stand on the deck of MV Aquarius, a search and rescue ship run in partnership between SOS Mediterranee and Medecins Sans Frontieres on their way to Spain June 14, 2018. Picture taken June 14, 2018. (Reuters Photo)

Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini on Saturday warned another migrant rescue mission off the Libyan coast that it would not be allowed to land its "human cargo" at an Italian port.

The new rightwing and anti-immigrant Italian government last week banned the French NGO operated vessel the Aquarius, with more than 600 rescued migrants on board, from docking in Italy, causing uproar and a sharp spat with France.

Spain subsequently offered to take the Aquarius and it is expected at the port of Valencia on Sunday.

Salvini showed no sign Saturday of softening his position.

"While the Aquarius is sailing towards Spain, two other Dutch NGO operated vessels (Lifeline and Seefuchs) have arrived off the Libyan coast, to wait for their human cargos once the people smugglers abandon them," Salvini said in a Facebook post.

"These people should know that Italy no longer wants to be any part of this business of clandestine immigration and they will have to look for other ports to go to," he said.

"As minister and as a father, I take this action for the benefit of all," he added.

After Rome's decision to ban the Aquarius, French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte met on Friday and agreed that the EU should set up asylum processing centres in Africa to prevent "voyages of death."

At their meeting in Paris, Macron and Conte also demanded "profound" changes to the EU's asylum rules which put the migrant burden on their port of entry to Europe -- mainly Italy and Greece.

Meanwhile, the prosecutor of Catania in Sicily said that NGOs providing assistance to migrants in the Mediterranean "are part of a deeply flawed system, which gives traffickers and unscrupulous criminals access to Europe".

On the sidelines of a conference on immigration in his city, Carmelo Zuccaro said Saturday the NGOs' work "does not correspond to the sense of humanity or solidarity."

In response, NGOs insisted their actions were aimed at saving lives on a migratory route that has claimed thousands of lives in recent years in the Mediterranean.

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