Migrants remain at sea as Italy-Malta standoff intensifies

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Italy's new populist government will refuse to let a humanitarian boat carrying more than 600 refugees and migrants dock at any of its ports and has asked the tiny Mediterranean country of Malta to open its doors to the vessel, according to media reports.

The agency's special envoy for migrants in the Mediterranean, Vincent Cochetel, underscored that "people are in distress, are running out of provisions and need help quickly".

Mr Salvini says he wants to "stop the death boats". "Broader issues such as who has responsibility and how these responsibilities can best be shared between states should be looked at later".

The spokesman said it took place in the Libyan search and rescue area and was headed up by the rescue coordination centre in Rome, meaning Malta has no legal obligation to take in the migrants. "This time there's someone saying no".

The government of Malta expressed concern that Italy is going against worldwide rules in the way it is tackling the issue regarding stranded migrants.

The summer of 2016 saw a surge in mass drownings in the Mediterranean as Europe's worst migration crisis since World War II peaked with hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and elsewhere.

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Among those on board the rescue ship are 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 younger children and seven pregnant women, the German charity SOS Méditerranée says.

"This is not an inhumane act", said Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli, in charge of Italy's ports and coast guard. Picture taken June 9, 2018.

"We are talking about people".

Malta Prime Minister Joseph Muscat on Sunday evening told his Italian counterpart, Giuseppe Conte, Malta will not allow the ship to disembark.

"Our only objective is the disembarkation in a port of safety of the people that we rescued yesterday in hard conditions", it said, adding that it "took good note" of the Italian Interior Ministry's statements.

"We are concerned at Italy authorities' directions given to Aquarius on high seas".

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Malta allows a small number of emergency evacuations from rescue ships, but has always refused large numbers.

"In the meantime, the Maltese government is concerned at the Italian authorities' directions being given to Acquarius on the high seas which go against global rules, and risk creating a unsafe situation for all those involved".

By law, it will be hard for Italy to refuse the boat a safe haven, as its own Coast Guard coordinated the rescues, picking up more than 280 migrants in its own vessels before transferring them to the Aquarius to be taken to safety.

More than 600,000 migrants and refugees have reached Italy by boat from Africa in the past five years.

Last week, Mr Salvini said Rome should increase its deportations of migrants.

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