Italy’s new interior minister threatened to bar rescue ships from docking in the country’s ports after Malta refused to take hundreds of migrants, reports say.
Matteo Salvini sent a letter to the Maltese authorities saying he would ‘be forced to close Italy’s ports’ if the 629 migrants saved by the French charity SOS Mediterranee weren’t allowed to land at Malta’s capital Valletta.
Italy’s interior ministry were unable to confirm the existence of the letter and said officials were still trying to confirm the existence of the letter.
SOS Mediterranee’s ship, the Aquarius (pictured), carried 400 people who were picked up by the Italian navy
Meanwhile a spokesman for the Maltese government said that ‘Malta was neither the coordinating nor the competent authority’ in the rescue.
SOS Mediterranee said the passengers on its ship, the Aquarius, included 400 people who were picked up by the Italian navy, the country’s coastguard and private cargo ships and transferred.
The rescue ship’s crew pulled 229 migrants from the water or from traffickers’ unseaworthy boats on Saturday night, including 123 unaccompanied children and seven pregnant women. ‘Our sole objective is to bring the people we’ve rescued, in difficult conditions yesterday, to a port of safety,’ the group said in a statement.
Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini (pictured) threatened to bar rescue ships from docking in the country’s ports after Malta refused to take hundreds of migrants
Treatment: An aid worker helps a migrant from Senegal on the boat
Leader of the anti-migrant League party Mr Salvini, also deputy prime minister, tweeted yesterday: ‘Starting today, Italy, too, begins to say NO to the trafficking of human beings, NO to the business of clandestine immigration’.
The previous Italian government also threatened to close the country’s ports last July during last summer’s spate of migrant movements across the Mediterranean. SOS Mediterranee spokesman Mathilde Auvillain said the ship was ‘heading north following instructions received after the rescues and transfers’ on Saturday night. The Rome-based rescue coordination centre gave the instructions.
The aid group said in a statement it had taken ‘good note’ of Mr Salvini’s stance, as reported earlier by Italian media.
It added that the Aquarius ‘is still waiting for definitive instructions regarding the port of safety’.
The United Nations says at least 785 migrants have died crossing the sea so far this year.