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Italy to redirect 629 migrants to Malta, says Italian official

Italy to redirect 629 migrants to Malta, says Italian official

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said Italy's refusal to allow the Aquarius ship to dock at an Italian port risked "creating a unsafe situation for all those involved".

The Aquarius ship picked up the migrants, including 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 other children and seven pregnant women, from inflatable boats off the coast of Libya at the weekend.

United Nations agencies are warning of major tragedies if countries refuse to accept refugees and migrants rescued at sea.

Spain will welcome a ship with 629 migrants aboard after Italy and Malta refused to let the vessel dock in their ports.

Despite his comments, SOS Mediterranee insisted Tuesday that it would continue its rescue activities off the coast of Libya once the Aquarius had returned from Spain.

The Council of Europe welcomed Spain's move, with the organization's Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic, tweeting: "Saving lives at sea is an obligation that states must always uphold".

In a statement late on Sunday, the government said Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, and the Prime Minister of Italy, Giuseppe Conte, had a telephone conversation on the developing situation of the vessel Acquarius.

'A European issue' Malta and Italy both thanked Spain for stepping up, but maintained their dispute over who was responsible.

"Italy can not accept hypocritical lessons from countries that have preferred to look the other way on immigration", the new populist government said in statement initially reported by Italian media and then confirmed by government representatives to AFP.

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The two nearest countries, Italy and Malta, refused to let the ship dock at any of their ports.

Italy's new anti-migrant, right-wing interior minister has made good on a campaign pledge to close Italian ports to non-governmental organizations that pick up migrants at sea, which he has likened to taxi services for migrant smugglers.

"Turning this into a political weapon is despicable.it is clear that Europe must act more wisely, but we can not let these people die at sea". While he agreed there should be a more fair distribution of migrants, he said Salvini was "making a point at the cost of people in distress".

The 629 migrants, including pregnant women and scores of children, were saved by SOS Mediterranee on Saturday.

Many speculated that he had withdrawn it under pressure from his party and its allies, who have pledged to take a stand against European Union migration policies that they say leave Italy and its Mediterranean neighbours bearing the brunt of one of the biggest migration crises in a century.

SOS Mediterranean spokeswoman Mathilde Auvillain told The Associated Press the ship was "heading north following instructions received after the rescues and transfers" Saturday night.

"This is not an inhumane act", said Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli, in charge of Italy's ports and coast guard.

"We will not turn Italy into a huge refugee camp", he wrote.

Salvini has repeatedly accused charities of working with human traffickers but said Italy would not stop rescuing migrant boats itself.


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