Italy threatens to send migrants it rescued back to Libya

Italy has threatened to send nearly 180 rescued migrants back to Libya, if other European countries did not take the migrants.

The Italian coastguard ship Diciotti, working under the EU’s Frontex Mediterranean rescue operation, has been refused entry into Italian ports along with the 177 migrants it rescued on 16 August.

Italy, claiming that the migrants were rescued in Malta’s search and rescue area, asked Malta to take the migrants in; but Malta has refused stressing that the rescue wasn’t its responsibility.  

A statement from Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said that when the boat passed through Malta’s search and rescue area, the migrants’ boat was not in distress and that the migrants refused help offered by a Maltese military rescue ship.

“The migrants insisted that they did not require assistance and wanted to continue heading towards their intended final destination, namely Italy.”

Muscat said that the Maltese military continued to monitor the boat for humanitarian reasons as it sailed towards Italy on the high seas.

Maltese interior minister Michael Farrugia wrote on Twitter that the Diciotti deliberately picked up the migrants inside the Maltese search and rescue area “without coordination with the competent RCC (Rescue Coordination Centre), just to prevent them from entering Italian waters.”

“An interception on a ship exercising its right to freedom of navigation on the high seas is not considered a rescue,” Farrugia said.

“At the moment the ship is in Italian territory, near Lampedusa,” Farrugia said and added that “the only solution” is for the rescued migrants to be docked at the port of Lampedusa, or another Italian port.

“If Italy still wants to treat this case as a rescue, Lampedusa remains the closest port to dock,” Farrugia said.

Following Malta’s response, Italian transport minister Danilo Toninelli praised his country’s humanitarian rescue record and called for sanctions against Malta.

“The Diciotti’s actions show that Italy never pulls back when it comes to saving lives,” Toninelli said on twitter.

“Malta’s behaviour is once again inexcusable and deserves sanction.”

“The EU needs to step forward and open its ports to solidarity, otherwise it has no reason to exist,” Toninelli added.

Three days after the rescue, interior minister Matteo Salvini gave an ultimatum to European countries.

“Either Europe seriously decides to help Italy in concrete terms, beginning, for example, with the 180 immigrants on board the ship Diciotti, or we will be forced to do what will permanently disrupt the smugglers’ business: take the people recovered at sea back to a Libyan port,” Salvini threatened.

TMP – 31/08/2018

Photo credit: Il Fatto Quotidiano. Photo caption: The Italian coastguard Dactyl class off-shore patrol ship Diciotto

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