Malta rebuffs Italy, says not responsible for migrant boat

REUTERS

Malta rebuffed Italian pressure to go to the aid of an overcrowded boat carrying hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean, saying that the vessel was Italy’s responsibility.

Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini earlier urged Malta to rescue some 450 migrants on board a large boat that at the time was in Malta’s search-and-rescue area, saying “this boat cannot and must not arrive” in Italy.

Since taking office last month, Salvini has led a high-profile campaign to shut humanitarian rescue ships out of Italy’s ports, which means there are currently no charity ships to help out with rescues.

“When contacted, the persons on board the vessel informed Malta that their intention was to proceed to Lampedusa,” the Maltese Government said in a statement, referring to an Italian island half way between Sicily and Libya, from which people smugglers send unsafe boats to sea towards Italy.

“Malta monitored the vessel in order to ensure immediate assistance should it have been required. The vessel is now in Italian territorial waters,” the statement said. “Malta has satisfied all obligation under the applicable international conventions on coordination of Search and Rescue events.”

There have been two similar stand-offs with Malta since Italy’s new populist government, which pairs the far-right League party with the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, took power on June 1. In one case, rescued migrants were taken to Spain, and in another to Malta.

Earlier on Friday Salvini, who is also leader of the far-right League party, said Italy would not take in the migrants because they were Malta’s responsibility. Malta, a small island nation, has generally refused to take in large numbers of boat migrants.

Italy has seen more than 650,000 arrivals on its shores since 2014.