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Italy Says No to Migrant Boat, Asks Malta to Open Its Port

Italy will refuse to let a humanitarian ship carrying more than 600 migrants dock at its ports and has asked the Mediterranean island of Malta to open its doors to the vessel, government officials said on Sunday.

Malta brushed off the request, saying it had nothing to do with the rescue operation, opening the prospect of a diplomatic rift between the two European Union allies.

Migrants on a wooden boat are rescued by the Malta-based NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) in the central Mediterranean in international waters off the coast of Sabratha in Libya, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

The move by Italy’s new interior minister, Matteo Salvini, who is also head of the far-right League, represents an opening gambit to make good on his electoral promises to halt the flow of migrants into the country.

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“Malta takes in nobody. France pushes people back at the border, Spain defends its frontier with weapons,” Salvini wrote on Facebook. “From today, Italy will also start to say no to human trafficking, no to the business of illegal immigration.”

More than 600,000 migrants have reached Italy by boat from Africa in the past five years. Numbers have dropped dramatically in recent months, but rescues have increased in recent days, presenting Salvini with his first test as minister.

“My aim is to guarantee a peaceful life for these youths in Africa and for our children in Italy,” Salvini said, using the Twitter hashtag “We are shutting the ports”.

However, Salvini does not have authority over the ports and it was not immediately clear if his line would hold. The mayor of Naples, who has repeatedly clashed with the League leader, said he would welcome in the humanitarian boat.

“Naples is ready, without funds, to save lives,” he said.

European charity SOS Mediterranee said on Twitter earlier on Sunday that its rescue boat Aquarius had taken on board 629 migrants, including 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 other children and seven pregnant women.

The charity said the group of mainly sub-Saharan Africans were picked up in six different rescue operations off the coast of Libya and included hundreds who were plucked from the sea by Italian naval units and then transferred to the Aquarius.

“The boat is now heading north towards a secure port,” SOS Mediterranee tweeted on Sunday without specifying its destination, though virtually every such migrant boat over the past five years has ended up in Italy.

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Written by How Africa

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