World View: EU Faces Crisis as Italy Demands Malta Accept African Migrants

The Associated Press

This morning’s key headlines from

  • EU faces new crisis as Italy demands that Malta accept African migrants
  • Malta refuses to accept migrants, says it ‘adheres to all obligations’

EU faces new crisis as Italy demands that Malta accept African migrants

Rescue vessel carrying migrants (SOS Méditerranée)
Rescue vessel carrying migrants (SOS Méditerranée)

Italy is closing its ports to a migrant rescue ship with 629 migrants, including 123 children and seven pregnant women, and is demanding that the migrants disembark at a port in Malta.

SOS Méditerranée, which runs the Aquarius, picked up the 629 migrants in six different rescue operations off Libya’s coast on Sunday. Standard practice in the past has been to dock at a port in Italy, and allow the migrants to be taken in by Italy.

Italy’s new policy comes about following the formation of a “populist” government coalition between two parties, the left-wing Five Star Movement (M5S), and the right-wing La Lega (The (Northern) League). The two parties differ on many issues, but they formed a coalition based on their shared anti-euro, anti-EU and anti-immigrant policies, as well as lacking any fiscal discipline. Matteo Salvini, the leader of La Lega and now interior minister in Italy’s new coalition government, has promised that Italy will deport half a million illegal immigrants living in Italy.

Salvini has said that migrant rescue organizations act like “water taxis” and he has previously accused migrant rescue organizations like SOS Méditerranée of being in cahoots with human traffickers. According to accusations aired by some officials in the past, rescue organizations coordinate with human traffickers and then take a share of the profits. These accusations have been denied.

On Sunday, Salvini said the following:

[Italy is saying] no to human trafficking, no to the business of illegal immigration.

Malta takes in nobody. France pushes people back at the border, Spain defends its frontier with weapons.

It is not possible for Malta to say ‘no’ to every request for help. The Good Lord put Malta closer than Sicily to Africa.

Salvini also says that he is considering legal action against organizations rescuing migrants at sea.

On Saturday, 400 other rescued migrants were disembarked in the Italian ports of Reggio Calabria and Pozzallo, after Malta refused to let them disembark there.

Referring to the authorities in Malta, Salvini said, “God placed Malta closer to Africa than Sicily and it cannot continue saying no to rescue requests. … If anyone thinks I’ll allow another summer of (migrant) landings, without lifting a finger – that is not what I will be doing as minister of the interior.”

However, Leoluca Orlando, the mayor of Palmero, the capital city of the Italian island of Sicily, has announced that he will defy the orders coming from Salvini, and will allow the rescue boat to dock at the port of Palmero. BBC and Malta Today and Telegraph (London) and Guardian (London)

Malta refuses to accept migrants, says it ‘adheres to all obligations’

On Friday, the government of Malta reportedly refused a request from the Italian coast guard to assist with some 180 migrants in its capacity as the nearest safe port of call to the boat in distress.

Salvini said:

The Good Lord put Malta closer to African shores than Sicily, Malta cannot always say ‘no’ to any request to intervene …

[The vessel] waves as it sails past Malta and then lands in Italy. This is a mockery.

The government of Malta is deflecting any questions about whether it has ever accepted any migrants. In an interview on the BBC World Service, a government official refused to deny that the number of migrants it has taken in is “zero.”

Malta’s Home Affairs Minister Michael Farrugia said the following:

Malta adheres to all its obligations at all times. With regards to Search and Rescue, Malta acts in accordance to the international conventions that apply. Malta will continue to respect these conventions with respect to the Safety of Life at Sea, as happened in this latest case and indeed in each case.

Malta said the rescue operations took place in international waters off Libya and were coordinated by Italy, and therefore, “Malta is neither the competent nor the coordinating authority in this case. Malta will observe prevailing laws.”

As of Sunday evening, the rescue vessel Aquarius, with 639 rescued migrants on board, was 27 miles northeast of Malta, in international waters “awaiting orders.” Independent (Malta) and Malta Today

Related Articles

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Italy, Matteo Salvini, Sicily, Reggio Calabria, Pozzallo, Palmero, Leoluca Orlando, SOS Méditerranée, Aquarius, Libya, Malta, Michael Farrugia
Permanent web link to this article
Receive daily World View columns by e-mail


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.