Italian populists show migrant divides

Italian populists show migrant divides

Italy’s populist coalition government is showing divides over the 49 migrants floating near Malta onboard two private rescue ships.

The Sea-Watch 3 (pictured) has 32 refugees, after being at sea for 17 days while both Italy and Malta refused it permission to dock. Another 17 migrants were rescued off the coast of Libya on December 29 by the German NGO, Sea-Eye.

As many as 3,000 migrants rescued in the Mediterranean have been denied access to Italian ports since deputy prime minister and interior minister Matteo Salvini, the leader of the anti-migrant Lega, took office in June.

Salvini posted on Facebook that Italian ports “will remain closed to those who don’t respect the rules”.

He ignored a sermon from Pope Francis yesterday (Sunday) for the EU to “show concrete solidarity” and offer refuge to the Sea-Watch 3 and Sea-Eye, which carry torture victims and one baby.

Fellow deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio, the leader of the Five Star Movement (M5S), called on Malta to take responsibility for those onboard and that Italy would welcome the 10 women and their children.

But Salvini dismissed his coalition partner’s comments, saying: “Migrants? I’m the one who decides.”

Tiny Malta, with a population of half a million, is ill-suited to shelter many refugees but it is one of the closest pieces of EU territory to Africa.

Malta allowed the two ships to shelter from a storm and supplied food and water but refused to allow anyone to leave the ships.  

The overcrowded Sea Watch 3 is still floating off Maltese coast with 32 migrants, many of whom have been suffering from seasickness.  

The Dutch-flagged rescue ship saved them from sinking boats in international waters near Libya last month. The ship has only six bunk beds and the floor is covered with blankets and the food is mostly rice and beans.

Movies are shown on a television installed in the makeshift shelter as the only distraction. The passengers are from countries like Congo, Mali and Egypt and all spent at least six months in Libya.

“It’s getting more and more unstable every day, the level of stress is increasing,” said Frank Doener, the ship doctor, who is concerned about the physical and psychological condition of the passengers.

Kim Heaton-Heather on board the Sea Watch 3 said: “The guests are still on board now because Malta has refused to allow us to come to port and to be used as a port of safety. We have requested that twice, as we have been at a standoff the coast of Malta for a number of days.

“Also, Holland has not given us a port of safety and they are saying it is not really their responsibility. Italy also said it’s not their responsibility either because they were not the coordinating body of the rescue.


The Sea-Watch 3 is a small vessel. Picture credit: Flickr

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