Italy Demands UK Take 140 Illegals Picked up by NGO Boat

The Aquarius migrants rescue ship
CARLO HERMANN/AFP/Getty

Britain could be responsible for taking in 140 illegal migrants picked up by aid groups in the Mediterranean, Italy’s populist leaders have suggested.

The migrants, who are mainly from Somalia and Eritrea, we picked up over the weekend by the Aquarius ship, operated by the Franco-German SOS Méditerranée and Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders/MSF) group.

The vessel is reportedly currently still at sea between Malta and Italy after MFS claimed both nations said they would not open their ports to the ship and those on board.

The Aquarius is a former German Coast Guard vessel that is now registered in Gibraltar – a British Overseas Territory to the south of Spain.

Italian transport minister Danilo Toninelli claimed the UK is responsible for the migrants on board as the rescue ship that picked them up is sailing under the flag of the British territory.

“At this point, the United Kingdom should assume its responsibility to safeguard the castaways,” the minister, from the populist Five Star Movement, said on Twitter Monday.

Meanwhile, Italian right wing populist Interior Minister Matteo Salvini suggested on social media that France, Germany, Britain or Malta were potential destinations.

He wrote on Twitter that the “Aquarius, with its cargo of illegal immigrants, certainly will not arrive in an Italian port”.

Adding: “Stop human traffickers and their accomplices, #closedports and #openhearts”.

The European Union, meanwhile, has suggested the Italian position could be justified and said Monday they are talking to different member states about where the migrant should go.

At a regular briefing for journalists in Brussels, Tove Ernst, the European Commission’s spokeswoman on migration, said: “There is a possibility that the flag state, that there could a case for the flag state to be responsible.

“However, this may not be practically feasible and it is also really depending on the situation and who is coordinating where the events took place.”

She added: “We are now in contact with a number of member states and stand ready to lend our full and swift diplomatic support to resolve this situation.”

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