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Italy: Malta and France to take 100 migrants

July 14, 2018

Some 450 migrants were rescued and moved from a fishing boat onto two patrol vessels in the Mediterranean. Italy's prime minister says Malta and France have agreed to take some of the migrants.

Rescued migrants are seen aboard the Monte Sperone ship of the Italian border police in the Mediterranean Sea.
Image: picture alliance/AP Photo/A. Calanni

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced a breakthrough on Saturday in a dispute with Malta over the fate of 450 migrants stranded in the Mediterranean off the coast of Italy.

"France and Malta will respectively take 50 migrants each ... other countries will follow very quickly," Conte wrote on his Facebook page. Malta's prime minister confirmed on Twitter that his country would take 50 migrants. France has not yet confirmed the Italian prime minister's statement.

Conte added in his post that he had reminded the heads of other European Union countries of their late June pledge to share the burden of accepting and hosting new migrant arrivals from outside the bloc.

Italy and Malta had feuded with each other earlier on Saturday over who should accept two EU ships carrying 450 migrants that had been saved from a wooden fishing vessel early on Friday.

The two patrol vessels, one belonging to the EU border agency Frontex and another to the Italian border police, were stranded in Italian waters after hard-line Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said the vessels should be sent to Malta, "or better Libya."

Malta's retort

But Malta refused to come to the migrants' aid, arguing that when Italian authorities informed it about the wooden vessel, the boat was already far closer to the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa than it was to Maltese shores. It also said that the migrants aboard the vessel intended to proceed to Italy.

Salvini, who heads Italy's far-right League party, has vowed to stop migrants from arriving on Italian coasts, not allowing NGO and charity rescue boats operating in the Mediterranean to dock in Italy and accusing them of aiding human traffickers.

Although the number of refugees and migrant arrivals in Europe has dropped significantly since its peak in 2015, the issue continues to be highly contentious in Europe.

On Thursday, Salvini refused to allow 67 migrants brought by the country's coast guard to a Sicilian port to disembark. The migrants were eventually allowed off the ship following an intervention by Italian President Sergio Mattarella.

Salvini said he had learned of the president's move with "regret and amazement."

amp, ap/aw (Reuters, AP, dpa, AFP)

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