Italy Denies Entry to Another Migrant Rescue Ship - Interior Minister

Migrants remain at sea as Italy-Malta standoff intensifies

French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday accused Italy of "cynicism and irresponsibility" over its refusal to take in hundreds of migrants stranded on a rescue ship in the Mediterranean, a government spokesman said.

"Salvini will be hoping either for the migrants to be put ashore in a different European Union country, or he will eventually let them land in Italy in return for concessions for Italy's case from the European Union", he said.

The Italian government is insisting that Malta takes in 629 migrants that were rescued near Libya on Sunday morning, saying that its ports were closed.

The passengers had been rescued in six different operations, according to SOS Mediterranée. "It is our obligation to avoid a human catastrophe and offer a safe haven to these people, fulfilling that way the obligations of worldwide law", his government said in a statement.

He added: "It will be necessary to sit down and discuss how to prevent this kind of thing from happening in the future. This is a European issue", he said on Twitter.

Spain's decision to take in the ship was hailed by Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini as a "victory" for his government's hardline immigration policy.

The ship had sailed north towards Italy but Mr Salvini said it should go to neighbouring Malta instead. "Italy doesn't shrug off its responsibility when it comes to saving lives, but it asks that others do the same", Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli, in charge of Italian ports and coast guard, said after the Spanish announcement.

A total 629 migrants - including pregnant women and scores of children - are now crammed on to the Aquarius ship after being rescued off the Libyan coast on Saturday and Sunday.

But it was not clear if the offer would be taken up given that the trip would expose the migrants to several more days at sea.

"From now also Italy begins to say NO to the traffic of human beings, NO to the business of illegal immigration".

But the charity's missions will continue "as long as there are people drowning in the Mediterranean, as long as we have the resources, and as long as we are able to act and we are not kicked out of the area", she said.

La Repubblica newspaper reported Salvini sent a letter to the Maltese authorities saying he would "be forced to close Italy's ports" if the 629 migrants saved by French NGO SOS Mediterranee weren't allowed to land at Malta's capital Valletta.

Spain tried to defuse the situation by giving instructions for the boat to dock in Valencia to "avoid a humanitarian disaster" and its crew received official entry approval late on Monday.

"The better option would be to disembark the rescued people in the nearest port after which they can be transferred to [Spain] or other safe countries for further care & legal processing".

That has put pressure on Italy and Greece, the entry points for the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty at home to seek a new life in Europe.

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