Italy shuts ports to migrant boat, asks Malta to open its doors

Problems for the vessel began when Italy's Matteo Salvini, recently appointed as interior minister as part of a new right-wing government, closed the country's ports to the boat, after promising voters he would crack down on immigration.

Spain offered on Monday to take in a humanitarian ship stranded in worldwide waters with 629 migrants aboard, prompting Italy's new anti-establishment government to claim victory in its bid to get European partners to help more on immigration.

The first group of migrants have been transferred from the humanitarian ship Aquarius - which had rescued 629 migrants crossing from Libya - to an Italian coast guard vessel, reports say.

Everyone is exhausted, and the daily fight for a sleeping spot on deck is creating friction among this large group of people stuck together in a reduced space: the Aquarius is 77 meters long and made for holding no more than 550 migrants for two to three days.

On Monday afternoon, Spain offered to allow the migrant-rescue ship to dock at the port of Valencia "to help avert a humanitarian catastrophe, " though it remained unclear whether or not the ship was able to make the journey to Valencia.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders, which is operating the Aquarius alongside SOS Mediterranne, urged a rethink.

Italy has had to deal with hundreds of thousands of migrants in recent years who passed through Libya to reach Europe.

Both Italy and Malta had come under increasing global pressure to allow the migrant rescue ship to dock, and they continued to argue over who was responsible.

Mayor of Naples Luigi de Magistris said on Twitter that "if a minister without a heart leaves pregnant women, children, old people, human being to die, the port of Naples is ready to welcome them".

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A European Union summit later this month is due to consider changes to asylum law to better share the burden of incoming migrants.

"If a boat had France as its closest coast, it could land", Griveaux said.

Successive Italian governments have accused their European partners of leaving the country to cope on its own with an influx of 700,000 migrants from Africa since 2013.

While Spain adopted a diplomatic tone with Italy when it announced it would take the migrants, relations between Rome and Paris have deteriorated in an explosion of accusations and counter-accusations.

The regional leader of Spain's Basque Country, Inigo Urkullu, said the region was prepared to take care of 10 percent of the passengers.

"Given the location of the ship and the urgency, my opinion is that it would be natural to open a Corsican port to help those people in distress", President of Corsican Assembly Jean-Guy Talamoni, tweeted on Monday evening. The ship, carrying more than 600 people, has been unable to dock.

Spain has offered to take them in, which Macron praised during the Cabinet meeting.

"This has become a high-level political negotiation", said Anelise.

File Image of MV Aquarius, a search and rescue ship.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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