Italy’s new hardline, anti-immigrant interior minister has refused port to a Dutch-flagged rescue ship carrying more than 200 migrants because it is now in Maltese waters.
On Thursday, Matteo Salvini accused the ship, which is operated by German NFO Mission Lifeline, of acting improperly by taking on board the 224 migrants that the Italian coast guard had assigned to the Libyan coast guard to rescue. He claimed the rescue was in Libyan waters, which Lifeline denies.
“I want to save lives but I’m paid by Italians to defend the safety of Italian citizens. I don’t accept there are organizations of pseudo-volunteers that endanger the lives of those who flee Africa and then think to disembark them all in Italy,” he said.
He added that those on board the ship “will only see Italy on a postcard”.
Malta responded that it would “act according to the law and applicable conventions”, although it did not elaborate. Spain has been on contact with Malta offering humanitarian help.
International law states Malta must respond if they are the nearest safe port at rescue or if requested by the ship’s captain.
On Thursday, Danilo Toninelli, the Italian transport minister, said the coast guard would pick up the migrants because it was too dangerous for the boat to travel to the Netherlands with so many people – including 14 women and four small children – on board.