Aquarius migrants head to Valencia on board Italian ships

ROME – The 629 migrants recovered on the Aquarius, an NGO search and rescue vessel, were to be handed over to Italian ships on Tuesday to complete the final leg of a re-routed mission to safety in Spain, officials said, as the new anti-migrant Italian government comes under fire across the globe.

 “The shipwreck victims on board will be transferred to Italian ships and carried to Valencia,” Sos Mediterranee said, adding that “the Aquarius ship will receive supplies from an Italian vessel.”

 Both Italy and Malta turned away the rescue ship, which was caught in limbo until Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez intervened, saying Valencia would provide “safe harbour” to the hundreds on board, including 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 children and seven pregnant women.

 Calls arose across Europe for more coordinated rescue operations so as to avoid needless disputes at critical moments, which heighten the vulnerability of hundreds stranded in open water.

  Elisa De Pieri, Amnesty International’s Italy Researcher, condemned the calculated “callousness of the Italian and Maltese authorities,” who are “trampling the principle of rescue at sea and undermining the entire search and rescue system” by closing their ports.

 “If allowed to go unchallenged, it will discourage and compromise the lifesaving work of NGO’s leaving thousands of migrants and refugees adrift in the Mediterranean ... This sets a precedent that will inevitably cost lives,” De Pieri said.

  French President Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche movement joined the criticism of the M5S-League coalition, labelling Italy’s new hard line anti-migrant policy as “sickening.”

 On Twitter Sos Mediterranee expressed that “the team are relieved that a solution is being found, although the result is the prolongation of unnecessary time at sea for the survivors and a reduction in the rescue ships.”

 The delay “affects the ability to rescue and therefore we regret to think that this situation will result in other deaths,” crew member, Alessandro Porro, added.

 Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat continued the attack on anti-migrant Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, saying that his decision on Monday to close the country’s ports “broke international rules and caused a stalemate.”

 Muscat joined Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte in praising Spanish efforts to bypass a humanitarian crisis, adding that Malta European countries would need “to sit down and discuss how to prevent this from happening again.”

 Salvini, who claimed “victory” amid yesterday’s migrant emergency, has received waves of criticism whilst tension rises between his League party and their coalition partners, the Five Star Movement, on how to handle the issue.

 Italian political commentators have highlighted that the Interior Minister’s ‘success’ relied entirely on the reaction of his complete opposite, in the form of a new socialist Spanish government under Sánchez.

 “If it was for Salvini’s friends, Hungary, Poland or Austria, men, women and children on board the Aquarius would have remained at sea,” La Repubblica’s Mario Calabresi noted.

 Meanwhile, the Italian coastguard vessel Ubaldo Diciotti, carrying 937 migrants and two corpses in on route to the port of Catania.