Italy is seeking to have seven boats carrying roughly 1,000 migrants needing rescue off Libya taken back to North Africa, according to a Spanish aid group.
Proactiva Open Arms, which has rescued thousands of migrants in the Mediterranean, said the Italians want the Libyan coast guard to conduct the rescues and return the migrants.
Proactiva said in a tweet that Italian coast guard authorities who coordinate rescues sent out advisories to all ships in the area but told the aid group: “We don’t need your help.”
Italy, under a new anti-migrant government, has refused to let aid groups dock in Italian ports, arguing they are encouraging smugglers. But Italy’s rescue coordination centre had still engaged with the groups at sea during actual rescues up until Sunday.
Italy’s populist 5-Star Movement demands that European countries act to deal with hundreds of thousands of migrants on the continent, warning that the future of Europe is at stake.
The 5-Stars, who are in a ruling coalition with the anti-migrant League party, penned a blog entitled The Migrant Hypocrisy Sinks Europe as EU leaders met in Brussels on migration.
The post complained that few countries came close to accepting the redistributed migrants they pledged to under a failed 2015 EU plan to ease the burden on Italy and Greece.
The post said: “It’s time for Europe to find itself again in the principles that everyone preaches, but few sincerely practice,” saying what is at stake is “the future of Europe as a political community and its values.”
Italy’s interior minister defended his country’s decision to ask the Libyan coast guard to rescue the estimated 1,000 migrants without help from aid groups.
In a tweet, Matteo Salvini said: “It’s right that the Libyan authorities intervene, as they’ve been doing for days, without having the NGOs interrupt them and disturb them.”
Barcelona mayor Ada Colao, who previously offered Barcelona as a port when Italy refused entry to another aid group’s rescue ship, repeated her willingness to take in the migrants and urged prime minister Pedro Sanchez to intervene to allow Proactiva’s ship to “save lives.”
She said: “Italy wants to leave the migrants in the hands of Libya, where they torture, rape and enslave” migrants.