Published: Fri, June 15, 2018
Worldwide | By Lisa Hogan

Italy's racist government rejects refugees

Italy's racist government rejects refugees

France denounced Italy's refusal to take in more than 600 migrants stranded aboard the rescue ship Aquarius, accusing the government of "cynicism" and asking Rome to reconsider its position.

The refugees will be taken to Spain's Valencia port with the help of two Italian ships.

Italy, which has a new, anti-immigration government, suggested that Malta take in the migrants.

The new Spanish administration of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez then offered to allow the Aquarius to dock in the eastern port city of Valencia, insisting it was an "obligation" to do so. "It is our obligation to avoid a human catastrophe and offer a safe haven to these people, fulfilling that way the obligations of global law", his government said in a statement.

They're anxious that because the boat was only built to transport 500 people they might not be able to make it to Spain safely. "We need to have an idea of what port to go to, something that up to now we haven't had", Aquarius crew member Alessandro Porro told Sky TG24 on Sunday. "629 immigrants overseas the ship Aquarius headed for Spain, primary goal achieved!"

Calling for immediate disemarkation for the 629 people, including 11 children and seven pregnant women, MSF said the better option would be to disembark in the nearest port, after which the refugees can be transferred to Spain or other safe countries for further care and legal processing.

By law, it will be hard for Italy to refuse the boat a safe haven, as its own Coast Guard coordinated the rescues, picking up more than 280 migrants in its own vessels before transferring them to the Aquarius to be taken to safety.

Malta refused, saying it had nothing to do with the rescue mission, which was overseen by Italian coastguard.

After Spain's offer, Italy's far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini from the anti-immigration party League celebrated, tweeting "VICTORY!"

"Enough!" Salvini said Monday.

The Aquarius ship at sea.

European charity, SOS Méditerranée, said the group of sub-Saharan Africans were picked up in six different rescue operations off the coast of Libya.

The official, who asked not to be identified, said that Italy would not open its ports to the NGO's vessel, according to the Reuters news agency.

Catalonia's leader Quim Torra said that his region was capable of hosting a total of 1,800 refugees.

Mr Salvini says he wants to "stop the death boats".

Ximo Puig, president of the Valencia region, where the boat is due to dock, called Salvini's stance "despicable".

"People are in distress, are running out of provisions and need help quickly", the United Nations refugee agency said, urging governments to set aside political considerations.

Earlier in the day, the Maltese government also refused to accept migrants from the Acquarius.

"It says that the country responsible for operations in that area has primary responsibility for taking them from the ship".

European Union leaders in December had set an end-of-June deadline for an overhaul of rules to create a permanent mechanism to deal with migrants in the event of a new emergency.

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