Italy’s new government has declared victory in a standoff over a German-owned rescue boat that brought hundreds of migrants to its shores. Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini refused MS Aquarius, which carried 629 migrants on board, to dock over the weekend. Spain’s newly elected Socialist government accepted the boat, which ended the impasse.
“Saving lives at sea is a duty, but transforming Italy into an enormous refugee camp is not,” Minister Salvini wrote on Facebook. “Italy is done bowing its head and obeying. This time there’s someone saying no.”
“France pushes people back at the border, Spain defends its frontier with weapons. From today, Italy will also start to say no to human trafficking, no to the business of illegal immigration,” Salvini told reporters on Sunday. He announced the move on Twitter using hashtags such as “we’re shutting our ports”.
The ship was registered to SOS Méditerranée, a Berlin-based NGO. According to the charity, “the group of mainly sub-Saharan Africans were picked up in six different rescue operations off the coast of Libya,” British daily Independent reported. It is unclear why Italy must feel obliged to accept refugees rescued by a German-owned boat picking up migrants off the coast of Libya. Estimated 600,000 migrants have landed on Italy’s coasts from Africa since the refugee influx began five years.