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Aquarius: the migrant ship at centre of ugly European row

13 June 2018

An Italian Coast Guard ship met the Aquarius at sea on Tuesday to take the migrants on board, and it will carry the migrants to Spain.

Italy's new Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said "saving lives is a duty, turning Italy into a huge refugee camp is not".

Valencia, however, is 800 nautical miles away from the point between Italy and Malta, where the ship has been stranded, and took on emergency rations of food on Monday.

"Given the location of the ship and the urgency, my opinion is that it would be natural to open a Corsican port to help those people in distress", President of Corsican Assembly Jean-Guy Talamoni, tweeted on Monday evening.

Meanwhile, the situation with 'Aquarius' was resolved after Spain made a decision to step in following the United Nations refugee agency call to promptly find a way to take the ship full of people in.

Migrants are rescued in the Mediterranean sea on June 9, 2018 in a picture released on June 11, 2018 by SOS Mediterranee, before boarding the French NGO's ship Aquarius.

Another local resident, Natale Lombardo, said illegal migrants disembarking on the island were virtually "invading" them, adding that "he who arrives here legally is welcomed, but between these people there are also illegals and those can't be tolerated".

Italy sent hundreds of migrants towards Spain in a small naval convoy on Tuesday after shutting its own ports to them, sparking a war of words with France that exposed European Union tensions over immigration.

But Malta and Italy - whose new populist government has vowed a tough new stance on immigration - have both refused to take the migrants in, triggering concern in the worldwide community about their plight.

Italy refused because some politicians there don't want the country to take in as many migrants as it has in the past.

Matteo Salvini
Matteo Salvini

MSF Sea said the medical situation of those on board was "stable for now but unnecessary delay to disembarkation in safe port puts vulnerable patients at risk".

The French government issued a pointed response to Italy's decision.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which is operating the Aquarius alongside SOS Mediterranne, urged Rome to drop plans for the lengthy trip to Spain for its migrant passengers.

Malta insisted that Italy was legally obliged to take the vessel in and refused to allow the vessel into Malta, before Spain ultimately stepped in and agreed to take in the Aquarius.

Matteo Salvini, Italy's Interior Minister and Northern League party leader chose to refuse docking to "Aquarius" and redirect the vessel to the Island of Malta, apparently in line with his election promises.

"The position, the line of the Italian government is sickening".

Doctors Without Borders, which has staff on board, said 15 of the migrants had significant chemical burns - common among those who sit on the floor of smugglers' boats, where gasoline mixes with seawater.

Hundreds of people who are stranded on a rescue ship in the Mediterranean will be taken to safety in Spain.

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.

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Aquarius: the migrant ship at centre of ugly European row