Italian mayor offers to accept stranded migrants, then retracts

Malta and Italy Refuse Stranded Migrant Recuse Ship Spain May Step

Spain has offered to take in a humanitarian ship stranded in global waters with 629 migrants aboard as Italy and Malta refused to let it dock.

The 629 migrants, including 11 children and seven pregnant women, have been drifting in the central Mediterranean aboard the Aquarius rescue ship since Sunday, when both Italy and Malta shut their ports to it.

The appeal by the non-governmental organisation follows that of the United Nations refugee agency in Italy that urged the countries involved to "rapidly find solutions to allow migrants and refugees on board the Aquarius to disembark safely and quickly".

The standoff continued on Monday between Italy and Malta over more than 600 migrants who are adrift aboard a rescue ship in the Mediterranean and waiting to find out if they will be allowed to dock in a port soon.

Despite his comments, SOS Mediterranee insisted Tuesday that it would continue its rescue activities off the coast of Libya once the Aquarius had returned from Spain.

While thanking Spain for their offer of help, the Maltese Prime minister said Italy had broken global rules and that there was a need to sit down with European partners to avoid an incident like this from happening again. We will have to sit down and discuss how to prevent this from happening again. "This is a European issue", he said on Twitter.

After Spain's offer, Italy's far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini from the anti-immigration party League celebrated, tweeting "VICTORY!"

The ship said it had been ordered on Sunday night by Italy's coast guard to remain 35 miles off Italy and 27 miles from Malta.

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"Saving lives at sea is a duty, but transforming Italy into an enormous refugee camp is not", Salvini wrote on Facebook on Monday.

Everyone is exhausted, and the daily fight for a sleeping spot on deck is creating friction among this large group of people stuck together in a reduced space: the Aquarius is 77 meters long and made for holding no more than 550 migrants for two to three days.

SOS Mediterranee director general Sophie Beau said Spain's offer "is encouraging and shows that some states are sensitive to the humanitarian emergency". They say other European Union countries should share this burden.

This solution is happy for Italy, which maintains closure of its ports, and Spanish president, which resolves a humanitarian crisis that affects European migratory policy in full.

In the meantime, some in Italy have offered to take in the migrants, with the mayor of Taranto, Rinaldo Melucci, saying that the southern port city was "ready to embrace every life in danger".

"The better option would be to disembark the rescued people in the nearest port after which they can be transferred to [Spain] or other safe countries for further care & legal processing".

Since 2015, thousands of people have fled war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia with Italy and Greece being the main entry points to Europe.

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