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Germany urges Italy to open up ports to migrant rescue ships

July 6, 2019

German Interior Minister Seehofer has urged his Italian counterpart Salvini to open ports to boats carrying rescued migrants. A rescue boat docked without permission in Lampedusa and another is headed to Malta.

The Italian NGO Mediterranea Saving Humans' Alex migrant rescue ship carrying 46 migrants rescued off Libya coasts, docks in the port of Lampedusa
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/Ansa/Elio Desiderio

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer implored his opposite number in Italy to reopen the country's ports to rescue vessels carrying migrants.

In a letter to Italy's far-right interior minister, Matteo Salvini, Seehofer said the situation as it stood — with boats often at sea for weeks before they are allowed to dock — was untenable.

Read more: Matteo Salvini: Sweeping to power with selfies?

Since Italy elected a populist coalition in 2018, Salvini has effectively closed the country's ports to rescue ships, meaning boats have had to stay at sea for extended periods.

"We cannot be responsible for ships with rescued people aboard being adrift for weeks on the Mediterranean," Seehofer wrote, adding that European solutions based on joint responsibility were needed rapidly.

"I therefore strongly appeal to you to reconsider your position of not being prepared to open the Italian ports," Seehofer said.

Seehofer had earlier tweeted that Germany was ready to accept some of the rescued migrants arriving in Italy "as part of a European solidarity solution."

However, Salvini — who claims the rescue ships are assisting people trafficking — was quick to dismiss Seehofer's request and said Germany should take action against German-flagged rescue ships and their crews.

"The German government is asking me to open Italian ports to the ships. Absolutely not," he said in a series of tweets. "We demand that Merkel's government revoke the German flag from ships that help people traffickers and smugglers, and repatriate its citizens who disobey Italian law."

Sailboat lands without permission

Meanwhile, a rescue vessel brought 41 migrants into port at Lampedusa without the permission of Italian authorities.

The Italian-flagged Alex is operated by the migrant rescue charity Mediterranea, which said conditions aboard the sailboat had become intolerable.

"The Alex sailboat of Mediterranea Saving Humans has just docked at the port of Lampedusa," Mediterranea tweeted. There are no closed ports for humanity."

The Alex is the second NGO vessel to land at Lampedusa in just over a week after Sea-Watch 3 captain Carola Rackete was arrested for forcefully docking her ship there.  

Malta and Italy reportedly reached a deal on Friday to each take refugees from the Alex.

Read more: Italy's Salvini labeled 'dangerous' and 'racist' by migrant ship captain

The German NGO Sea-Eye on Saturday said one of its vessels, the Alan Kurdi, had been refused the right to dock at Lampedusa and would sail on to Malta, adding that it would not wait for an emergency off the Italian island's coast and that "human lives are not a bargaining chip."

Last month, Salvini issued a decree introducing fines of up to 50,000 euros ($57,000) for the captain, owner and operator of vessels "entering Italian territorial waters without authorization."

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rc/sms (dpa, KNA)