Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini on Friday called on Malta to take in a rescue vessel carrying more than 200 migrants, and insisted the NGO-operated ship be impounded and its crew detained.
“For the safety of the crew and passengers we have asked Malta to open its ports,” the leader of the far-right League tweeted, claiming the vessel was in Maltese waters. “It is clear that the ship will then have to be seized, and its crew detained. [It should] never again be out trafficking at sea.”
Salvini, who has pledged to put an end to illegal immigration by denying access to Italian ports to rescue vessels run by NGOs, on Thursday accused the vessel of disrupting rescue operations in Libyan waters and refused to allow it to dock in Italy.
The ship, operated by German NGO Mission Lifeline and sailing under a Dutch flag, is carrying 239 migrants rescued off the coast of Libya.
Italian Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli also weighed in, accusing the NGO of acting “outside international law” and calling on the vessel to be impounded.
“We have nothing against NGOs but we are and continue to be committed to the rule of law,” Toninelli said in a statement on Facebook, accusing the organization of endangering the lives of migrants and encouraging people to make the dangerous sea crossing.
The NGO hit back against the government’s accusations as “nonsense” and insisted the rescue took place in international waters.
“The next step is we try to talk to other European countries to get help because the people onboard need to [be evacuated] immediately,” the NGO’s co-founder told Euronews, which reported the vessel is still in international waters.
The prime ministers of Italy and Malta are both scheduled to attend a mini-summit on migration on Sunday. Italy’s Giuseppe Conte earlier this week threatened to boycott the meeting, but later agreed to attend after German Chancellor Angela Merkel assured him a controversial draft leaders’ statement would be dropped.Syrian government forces siege US base in al-Tanf