After years of a steady stream, Italy is no longer letting in African migrants coming across the Mediterranean Sea.
Its new populist government is refusing to let in a rescue ship carrying 629 mostly sub-Saharan Africa migrants, including unaccompanied minors and pregnant women, who have been rescued from inflatable boats. Blocking the entry of MS Aquarius is part of the new government making good on electoral rhetoric to take a tougher stance on migration. Italy says tiny Malta and other European countries must begin accepting more migrants.
Today (June 12), Spain agreed to let the ship dock in Valencia.
Matteo Salvini, new interior minister and head of the far-right League, has defended his moves. “Saving lives at sea is a duty, but transforming Italy into an enormous refugee camp is not,” he said on Facebook. ”Italy is done bowing its head and obeying. This time there’s someone saying no.”
Italian ports, especially Sicily, have become key landing points for thousands of migrants taking the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean. This year alone, a “majority” of the more than 16,000 migrants who have arrived in Europe landed in Italy, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), says.
The crossing is typically made using overcrowded inflatable boats prone to capsizing. As a result, frequent rescue operations conducted by the Italian coast guard and charity groups have become crucial. Hundreds still perish at sea: 785 have died trying to make the crossing this year alone.