Italian government officials yesterday said that Italy would refuse to let the humanitarian ship Aquarius dock at its ports and it had asked the Mediterranean island of Malta to open its doors to the vessel.
Malta has accused Italy of violating worldwide norms by instructing a migrant rescue ship with 629 people aboard to stay at sea while a diplomatic standoff plays out over where it can dock.
Salvini, also deputy prime minister, has continued with his anti-migrant rhetoric since taking charge of the interior ministry, asking on Friday for North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to defend Italy, which he says is "under attack from the south".
On Sunday, Salvini said Italy was saying "no to human trafficking, no to the business of illegal immigration". That stance "confirms the latest unwillingness of Malta and, thus, of Europe, to intervene and take care of the emergency".
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European charity SOS Mediterranee said on Twitter earlier that its rescue boat, Aquarius, had taken on board 629 migrants, including 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 other children and seven pregnant women.
Matteo Salvini sent a letter to the Maltese authorities saying he would "be forced to close Italy's ports" if the 629 migrants saved by the French charity SOS Mediterranee weren't allowed to land at Malta's capital Valletta.
Malta is accusing Italy of violating worldwide norms by instructing a migrant rescue ship with 629 people aboard to stay at sea while a diplomatic standoff plays out over where it can dock.
Sea-Watch said police also questioned some of the rescued migrants who, after being processed by the authorities, are likely to end up in reception centres. It added that the Aquarius "is still waiting for definitive instructions regarding the port of safety". Among those on board are 400 migrants rescued by the Italian navy and merchant vessels before being transferred to the Aquarius.
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For years the European Union has largely ignored Italy's rising fury at being left to deal with the migration crisis (even when it came from more politically acceptable figures like Matteo Renzi) but with Mr Salvini in charge, that may no longer be possible.
Human rights groups oppose returning rescued migrants to Libya, where many are held in inhumane conditions, poorly fed and often forced to do slave labor.
Italy has had to deal with hundreds of thousands of migrants in recent years coming via Libya to reach Europe.
The United Nations says at least 785 migrants have died crossing the sea so far this year.
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