MILAN — An Italian humanitarian group barred from docking in Lampedusa said Friday that it is refusing to bring 54 migrants rescued at sea to Malta because of the distance and psychological conditions of those on board one of its ships.
Mediterranea Saving Humans tweeted that its ship was off Italy's southernmost island of Lampedusa, just outside Italian territorial waters, and that it has been banned from entering Italian jurisdiction by ministerial decree. The migrants were rescued from a rubber dinghy Thursday off Libya.
Italy has insisted that the Libyan coast guard intervene and the migrants be brought back to Libya
The NGO said the decree is illegitimate because it can't be applied to a ship carrying people rescued at sea, and because Italy can't ban an Italian-flagged ship from entering its waters.
Malta says it will take the migrants in a deal with Italy to take an equal number already in Malta. The deal, announced by Malta late Thursday, appears aimed at avoiding what would be the 21st stand-off since Italy's populist government has begun refusing any port access to humanitarian groups rescuing migrants at sea.
Italy has insisted that the Libyan coast guard intervene and the migrants be brought back to Libya, which NGOs say is against maritime law since Libya is not a safe harbor, as emphasized by the bombing of a migrant center this week that killed dozens.
Italy argues that the presence of the ships encourages smugglers and that Italy has been unfairly stuck with the burden of managing arrivals from northern Africa for the rest of Europe.
The new at-sea drama follows a 17-day standoff between Italy and a German rescue ship that ended when the captain defied orders and forced her way to a dock in Lampedusa's main port. She is under investigation for disobeying orders and allegedly aiding illegal immigration.
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