Italian government rift over fate of 49 people stuck on rescue ships

January, 2019

A rift has opened within Italy’s populist coalition government over the fate of 49 people who remain stranded at sea in the Mediterranean onboard two private rescue ships.

Thirty-two of them are onboard the German NGO rescue vessel Sea-Watch 3, which has been at sea for 17 days after Italy and Malta refused it permission to dock. An additional 17 people were rescued off the coast of Libya on 29 December by a second vessel, which is operated by another German humanitarian group, Sea-Eye.

Between 2,000 and 3,000 people rescued in the Mediterranean have been denied entry into Italy in similar standoffs since Matteo Salvini, the deputy prime minister and leader of the far-right League, started a clampdown on immigration within days of coming to power last June.

As the Italian prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, tries to reach an agreement with other EU states to take in some of the stranded, Salvini has refused to relent, writing on Facebook that Italy’s ports “will remain closed to those who don’t respect the rules”. Salvini ignored a plea from Pope Francis on Sunday for European leaders to “show solidarity” and offer a safe port to the 49 people onboard the Sea-Watch 3 and the Sea-Eye.

Malta allowed the two ships to shelter from bad weather near its coast and for them to be resupplied with fresh food and water, but refused to let those onboard disembark, arguing that they were rescued beyond the country’s search-and-rescue zone.

Source: The Guardian