Italy turns away ship carrying over 600 migrants

With a new government in place in Italy this month, it didn’t take long for some new policies to come into effect. This is particularly true when it comes to questions about immigration and the ongoing migrant crisis. The new ruling coalition ran on a platform of being Euroskeptics who wanted to set their own immigration and border control policies rather than deferring to the EU. Now, in one of the first tests of that principle, Italy has denied a Doctors Without Borders ship carrying hundreds of Libyan migrants permission to dock at their ports. The usual suspects are up in arms, but the Italians want other countries to start sharing this burden. (CNN)

A ship carrying more than 600 rescued migrants is stranded in the Mediterranean Sea between Malta and Italy after both countries declined to take its human cargo.

The ship, Aquarius, is operated by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and the SOS Mediterranee organizations.

Aquarius rescued 629 people Saturday night into Sunday morning — taking on people from two rubber vessels as well as “Italian navy ships, Italian coast guard ships and merchant vessels” in six different operations, MSF and SOS said on Twitter.

The organizations said the boat was located 35 nautical miles from Italy and 27 nautical miles from Malta.

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini sent out a message explaining why the ship was being told to hold on station. He noted that many other countries have ships roaming the Mediterranean who do not accept these boatloads of refugees. These include the Netherlands, Spain, Great Britain, France and Malta. In particular, Salvini was calling out Malta for being less than thirty miles away and consistently refusing to accept any of these boat people who are rescued at sea. Why, he asks, is Italy bearing the brunt of the burden? It’s a fair question.

At the same time, the new Italian government saw revolt among their own ranks as several mayors from the parties now out of power criticized them for the decision. (Politico)

A number of mayors across southern Italy are pushing back against Matteo Salvini’s decision Sunday to close off the country’s ports to a rescue ship carrying more than 600 migrants…

Naples is “ready, without funds, to save human lives,” the mayor of Naples tweeted, calling Salvini a “heartless minister.”

The mayors of Palermo, Taranto, Messina and Reggio Calabria, have also said they would be ready to welcome the vessel.

“We have always welcomed rescue boats and vessels who saved lives at sea. We will not stop now,” Leoluca Orlando, the mayor of Palermo, said. “Salvini is violating the international law. He has once again shown that we are under an extreme far-right government.’’

This is something of a PR disaster for the new government, particularly since the shipload of refugees includes seven pregnant women and dozens of unaccompanied minors. But at the same time, the responses of other nations in the region seem to support what Italy’s Interior Minister is saying. Malta has been asked to take them and they refused. France and Spain have previously said it’s not their job either. If they’re going to refuse to accept refugees picked up at sea, what basis do they have to criticize Italy for balking at taking in hundreds more of them every day?

This split in the EU is going to be getting worse before it gets better, assuming it ever does. It’s now become clear that some of the members are done with taking orders from Belgium and allowing the Union to set their own border politicies for them. If Italy pushes back hard enough, the EU is going to have to come up with some new solutions.