Over 600 migrants in limbo after Italy blocks access to rescue boat

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In a sign that it will meet its promise to crack down on immigration, Italy’s new government has prevented a rescue boat in the Mediterranean from docking, leaving over 600 migrants in limbo.

The Aquarius, operated by SOS Méditerranée and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is carrying 629 people including 123 unaccompanied minors and seven pregnant women, having carried out six rescue operations over the night of June 10.

Matteo Salvini, who took office as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior on June 1, wrote on Facebook that Italy was saying “no” to “illegal immigration”.

Salvini, who leads the nationalist and eurosceptic Lega Nord, wrote that while rescue ships in the Mediterranean come from many countries, all of those countries prevent refugees and migrants from entering.

Matteo Salvini on Twitter

Da oggi anche l’Italia comincia a dire NO al traffico di esseri umani, NO al business dell’immigrazione clandestina. Il mio obiettivo è garantire una vita serena a questi ragazzi in Africa e ai nostri figli in Italia.

On June 1, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) project coordinator on board the Aquarius Aloys Vimard, told WikiTribune the EU’s deterrence policies were driving migrants and refugees to take greater risks to make the crossing.

A big former fishing boat with aan orange hull, name "aquarius" near the front, shown docked
Rescue ship the Aquarius is carrying 629 people after 6 operations overnight

“A reduction in the number of people leaving Libyan shores or getting to Europe does not mean a reduction of suffering,” said Vimard. “The suffering is just out of sight.”

Vimard said MSF had seen some people attempt the crossing six times, and while deterrence was reducing the overall number of people crossing, it was contributing to an increased death rate.

Migrants deaths dropped sharply (as did sea-crossings), after Italy struck an agreement with Libya’s UN-backed government.

The Aquarius was attempting to dock in Palermo, Sicily. The city’s mayor – and other mayors in Naples, Messina and Reggio Calabria – said they were prepared to disobey Italian authorities and allow the boat to dock in their seaports.

Read more: EU’s refugee deterrence policies drive “suffering out of sight” say aid workers

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