A Spanish NGO says one of its ships is “heading to a secure port” after rescuing 60 refugees and migrants off the coast of Libya, eliciting a reaction from Italy’s far-right interior minister who said they were not welcome in his country.
“Despite the hurdles, we continue to protect the right to life of invisible people. Their stories on what they experienced [in] Libya are terrifying,” Proactiva Open Arms said on Twitter on Saturday,
However, it remained unclear where the NGO’s Open Arms vessel would be allowed to anchor.
The news comes a day after three babies were found dead and 100 more went missing in a shipwreck off Libya that Proactiva Open Arms, whose charity rescue boat was in the area, said could potentially have been avoided.
It also follows a vaguely worded deal by European Union member aimed at controlling the number of migrants and refugees arriving on the continent.
Under the controversial deal, “controlled centres” will be set up in member states on a voluntary basis for “rapid and secure” process to distinguish between those eligible for asylum. The bloc’s leaders also agreed to increase funding for Turkey and freed up 500 million euros ($581m) in funding for North African states.
Reacting to the rescue by Proactiva Open Arms, Italy’s anti-immigration Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said on Facebook: “The nearest port is Malta, the organisation and flag are Spanish: they can forget about coming to an Italian port.”
Malta’s interior minister retorted on Twitter that the refugees had been rescued between Libya and the Italian island of Lampedusa.
“Stop spreading incorrect information by pointing the finger at Malta without any reason,” Michael Farrugia said.
Italy’s new populist government and Malta earlier this month refused to let dock the French NGO rescue ship Aquarius carrying more than 600 refugees and migrants. The move triggered an international outcry before Spain stepped in to help.
Malta then allowed another charity rescue ship, MV Lifeline, dock with 233 refugees and migrants on board.
That vessel, operated by German charity Mission Lifeline, picked the refugees up just outside Libya’s 12-mile territorial waters on June 21. The ship is now the subject of an investigation in Malta.
Proactiva Open Arms also accused coastguards in the area of hindering their work.
The NGO said Friday’s shipwreck could potentially have been avoided as the official call for help from Italy’s rescue control centre only came one hour after Open Arms overheard an EU plane warning Libyan coastguards that a migrant boat was in trouble.