Left-Wing Mayors Defy Populist Government, Inviting Banned Migrant Delivery Ships to Dock

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European Union law requires asylum seekers register in the first safe country they reach, but frontline countries such as Italy and Malta say the burden needs to be shared out across the bloc.

Leader of the anti-migrant League party Mr Salvini, also deputy prime minister, tweeted yesterday: "Starting today, Italy, too, begins to say NO to the trafficking of human beings, NO to the business of clandestine immigration". "They manifestly go against global rules, and risk creating a risky situation for all those involved", Muscat said on Twitter.

The charity said the group of mainly sub-Saharan Africans were picked up in six different rescue operations off the coast of Libya and included hundreds who were plucked from the sea by Italian naval units and then transferred to The Aquarius.

The migrants had been rescued during a series of operations Saturday by Italian maritime ships, cargo vessels and the Aquarius itself.

The Aquarius and its passengers were caught up in a crackdown promoted by the right-wing partner in Italy's new populist government, which has vowed to stop the country from becoming the "refugee camp of Europe".

"Our objective is the disembarkation in a port of safety of the 629 people now on board the Aquarius - some we rescued yesterday night in hard conditions", she was quoted by Reuters as saying. All passengers were offloaded to the Aquarius to be taken to land. But Muscat refused, Conte said, confirming "the latest unwillingness of Malta and, thus, of Europe, to intervene and take care of the emergency".

"My aim is to guarantee a peaceful life for these youths in Africa and for our children in Italy", Mr Salvini said, using a Twitter hashtag which translates to, "We are shutting the ports".

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"This is not an inhumane act", said Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli, in charge of Italy's ports and coast guard.

The Maltese Rescue Coordination Center "is neither the competent nor the coordinating authority", the statement said. "The Mediterranean is the sea of all the countries that face it, and it (Malta) can't imagine that Italy will continue to face this giant phenomenon in solitude".

One Aquarius crew member, Alessandro Porro, told Italian news channel Sky TG24 that they desperately needed to know which port to go to.

SOS Mediterranee said late Sunday that it had received instructions from Italian authorities to hold position between Malta and Italy after previously heading north.

The aid group said in a statement it had taken "good note" of Salvini's stance, as reported earlier by Italian media.

The United Nations estimates at least 500 people have died in 2018 trying to cross the central Mediterranean, following more than 2,800 fatalities previous year.

More than 550,000 migrants have arrived in Italy between June 2014 and June 2017.

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