Italy refuses port to migrant rescue ship
Mission Lifeline said it conducted the rescue in international waters and asked for a safe port.
Italy’s hard-line interior minister has refused port to a Dutch-flagged rescue boat with 224 migrants on board, a week after turning away another foreign ship, the Aquarius, carrying 630 migrants.
Matteo Salvini said the ship operated by the German aid group Mission Lifeline had loaded the migrants in Libyan waters after the Italian coast guard told it to leave the rescues to the Libyan coast guard.
Salvini said he had contacted the Dutch ambassador about the ship’s activities, adding that the migrants “will only see Italy on a postcard”.
La NAVE FUORILEGGE #Lifeline è ora in acque di Malta, col suo carico di 239 immigrati.— Matteo Salvini (@matteosalvinimi) June 22, 2018
Per sicurezza di equipaggio e passeggeri abbiamo chiesto che Malta apra i porti.
Chiaro che poi quella nave dovrà essere sequestrata, ed il suo equipaggio fermato.
Mai più in mare a trafficare.
Mission Lifeline said it conducted the rescue in international waters and asked for a safe port, which had not been assigned, adding “we are sailing northward”.
The ship’s current position was not clear.
The aid group has rescued 675 migrants since 2016, until now handing them over to other ships to continue rescues at sea.
This was the first time it had requested a port.
“Mission Lifeline fears that a similar situation to the Aquarius … could be on the horizon,” the group said in a statement, adding that the additional days at sea had health consequences for some of the Aquarius passengers.
“Therefore the NGO calls on the competent authorities to swiftly react to their obligation to designate a place of safety.”
Spokesman Axel Steier said in an email that the condition of the migrants was “OK,” but said migrants coming from Libya typically faced “torture, rapes, slavery”.
He said the passengers need protection and that the group was looking for a safe port “such as Lampedusa or Pozzallo”, both in Sicily.
“We never were in Libyan waters,” he said.
Italy’s transport minister, Danilo Toninelli, told the news agency Ansa after a cabinet meeting late Thursday that the Lifeline remained in Libyan waters, according to Italian coast guard officials.
He also said that the ship would be seized by Italian authorities if it arrived in Italy.
The Aquarius, operated by SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders, took the migrants to Spain, travelling an additional 932 miles, after Italy and Malta refused to let them land.
Salvini has likened such rescue ships to taxi services that finish the job for migrant smugglers.
He also has pointed out the failure of other European Union nations to take their share of migrants headed for Europe, a point that Italy will press in forthcoming EU meetings.
Salvini has threatened that Italy will withhold its payments to the EU if it does not get more help on the migrant issue.
Some 640,000 migrants have landed in Italy since 2014. The numbers are down dramatically this year, to some 14,500, more than 80% lower than in 2017.