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XINHUA NEWS SERVICE REPORTS FROM THE AFRICAN CONTINENT

 

Wandering of humanitarian ship 'Aquarius' illustrates
failure of European Union migration policy?

PARIS France (Xinhua) -- The wandering in the Mediterranean, for several days, of the humanitarian ship Aquarius, transporting more than 600 migrants, has cast harsh light on the fierce disagreements between member states of the European Union (EU) regarding the migration policy that the bloc should follow.

The event has illustrated how the Old Continent has failed for almost three years to meet the migratory challenge, according to some analysts.

Neither Malta or Italy gave the Aquarius the right to dock even though it is habitually granted in such cases.
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It was Madrid which, in a humanitarian gesture, by giving the ship authorization to sail toward the port of Valencia, allowing for a veritable human tragedy to be avoided.

But the boat has still not arrived due to unfavorable weather conditions.

The tough comments from French President Emmanuel Macron toward Rome this week have provoked a serious deterioration of relations between France and Italy, two countries nevertheless traditionally allies.

The Friday visit to Paris by the Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte for a working lunch and press conference, went a small way toward releasing tensions.

The two heads of government announced they had found mutual understanding again and shared points of view on migration policy reform for the EU.

They notably proposed to revise the notion of "State of first arrival," the creation of European centers in departure countries for migrants who wished to come to Europe, and the reinforcement of means at the disposal of Frontex, the European border agency.

  MV Aquarius is operated by SOS Méditerranée and Médecins Sans Frontières as a rescue vessel for migrants and refugees - Wikipedia Photo | Coastweek

The MV Aquarius is a former German coast-guard and fishery protection vessel (then named Meerkatze, 1977) operated since February 2016 by SOS Méditerranée and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) as a rescue vessel for migrants and refugees making the Mediterranean crossing in makeshift craft from Libya to Italy as part of the European migrant crisis. The ship has a capacity to rescue 200-500 migrants. PHOTO - WIKIPEDIA
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The French president conceded that migration policy was "a test for Europe" and lamented that "Europe lacks efficiency and solidarity."

Guissepe Conte said it was necessary to "reinforce the concept of a European frontier."

"No one in Europe can think to wash his hands of migration questions," the Italian prime minister said.

The tensions between Rome and Paris pay witness to the disagreements always growing between European countries.

These could provoke a veritable crisis in the EU which, since the migratory spike in 2015, has not arrived at an agreement for a shared policy on the matter.

It is "a decisive test" for the future of the EU, said German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"A mortal danger for the Union," said this week President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani.

A dividing line is growing always stronger and more visible between two camps.

On one side, Eastern European countries, like Hungary and Poland, more or less actively supported by Slovakia and the Czech Republic, have taken a hard line for years, refusing the resettlement of migrants by a quota system for member states.

They suggest a reinforcement of turning away illegal migrants at the borders, at the risk of halting freedom of movement in Europe, a key principle for the EU.

Italy and Greece, which carry the heaviest burden from the migrant crisis, appeal for the application of the solidarity principle between member states, and the redistribution of refugees and asylum seekers throughout the whole of the European Union.

Up until now, they have benefited from the support of the German chancellor whose country accepted almost a million migrants and has fought for a coordinated response, as well as a revision of the Dublin rules, with French backing.

The arrival in power of coalitions of conservatives, nationalists and populists in Austria and Italy have added to the crisis. With the support of the Christian Socialists (CSU) in the coalition running Germany—led by Horst Seehofer who is also Minister of the Interior—and that of Italian new government’s Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini, the objective has been set to create an "axis of volunteers" to attack what they qualify as clandestine immigration.

They demand in particular that their countries be able to turn away at the borders asylum seekers who are already registered in another EU country.

This axis considers itself reinforced by the agreement of Denmark and the Netherlands which support the idea of creating camps for asylum seekers in third countries.

Such policies would be out of compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights and the rules on asylum procedures.

The fracture line at the heart of Europe grows deeper and shifts, threatening even to provoke a serious crisis within the fragile coalition established painfully in Germany, rendering all of Europe fragile and risking to worsen.

The initiator of the "Strong axis of volunteers," the Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, has effectively put the battle against illegal immigration at the center of his politics, sweeping him to power at the end 2017 at the head of a coalition with the extreme right.

Austria, in addition, will take over the alternating presidency of the European Council on July 1.

Merkel, for her part, risks being marginalized in her country for being seen as too generous on migration questions.

France will have difficulty weighing in alone and arriving at a migration policy agreement.

And yet, behind this political trench war, all of Europe is under threat. The EU struggles to confront in a coherent manner, with solidarity, the migration movements which will amplify.

This context raises fears for the 2019 European elections a reinforcement of the populist extreme right within the European Parliament.

The coming weeks will prove crucial for the future and cohesion of the EU.
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EARLIER REPORTS:

Thousands march in Rome in solidarity with refugees

by Eric J. Lyman ROME Italy (Xinhua) -- Thousands of people took to the streets of the Italian capital Saturday to protest against the new government’s hardline policies against migrants landing on Italy’s shores.

Organized by the Unione Sidicato di Base (USB), a trade union umbrella group, the demonstration featured thousands of Italians and migrants together carrying placards and walking a 2.5-km route through the streets of Rome’s historical center.

There were no firm estimates on the number of participants, but the Italian police said they had prepared for around 20,000 demonstrators.

There were no significant reports of violence.

The demonstration came little more than two weeks after the installation of a new Italian government led by law professor Giuseppe Conte and backed by the League, a nationalist and anti-migrant political party strongest in the northern part of the country.

Italy attracted worldwide attention a week ago when it refused to let a migrant rescue ship, the Aquarius, come ashore with 629 migrants aboard.

After the Aquarius floated at sea for two days, Spain said it would accept the migrants.

French President Emmanuel Macron was among the high-profile voices criticizing Italy:

"If the French coast had been the boat’s closest shore it would have been allowed to dock."

Macron’s remarks on the topic sparked a threat from Conte to cancel a summit with Macron Friday.

But the meeting went ahead, with migration as the central topic.

Conte emerged from the discussion eager to move on from the recent news.

"The moment has come to change the page," Conte wrote on social media just after the Friday summit.

"Whoever sets foot in Italy, sets foot in Europe.

"And nobody in Europe can think of... washing their hands of this problem."

Conte called on other European states to help front-line countries like Italy confront the problem.

But his statement also indicated that all countries—including Italy—should do their part.

But if Conte’s statement indicated any change at heart at the top of the Italian government, that was contradicted by the head of the League, Matteo Salvini.

Italy’s newly-installed minister of the interior, Salvini, said Saturday that two more rescue boats aiding migrants off the shore of Libya and possibly headed toward Italy would be turned away like the Aquarius.

A poll released Friday show that nearly three out of five Italians support policies to curb migrant arrivals.

But that view was not reflected in Saturday’s march.

"I don’t know what is happening with the world, but I think that developed countries like Italy have a kind of moral obligation to help those in need," Annalisa Presutti, a 29-year-old pharmacist who participated in the march, told Xinhua.

"I don’t think we can turn our backs on vulnerable people who need help. But that’s what our government wants to do."

Baba Keita, a 30-year-old construction worker who came to Italy two years ago from the African nation of Mali, said most of those trying to reach Italy and Europe from Africa are desperate.

"It takes a lot of courage to leave your home and make the difficult journey," Keita said in an interview.

"It makes me sad to think of someone who made the whole trip, had their life saved at sea, and then would not be allowed to come to shore."
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2,320 people to assist Aquarius arrival in Spain

VALENCIA Spain (Xinhua) -- A total of 2,310 people will assist the 629 migrants who will arrive in the eastern Spanish city of Valencia on Sunday, sub-director of the Red Cross Jorge Suarez told reporters on Saturday.

The team is made up by health care professionals, police officers, translators and other officials.

The Community of Valencia has activated the Territorial Plan for Emergencies which allows different agencies to work, take coordinated decisions and face emergency situations.

Suarez explained that the three boats, namely Dattilo, Aquarius and Orione are expected to dock on Sunday morning, at 06:00 local time (0400 GTM), 09:00 local time and 12:00 local time, respectively.

Health care professionals will examine the migrants in situ on the boat, which is a first evaluation that will determine the following decisions.

They will get off the boat in groups of 20 people, those needing emergency medical assistance will be assisted at the port, others will receive a health card and will be transferred to medical centers.

The rest will have to wait to be distributed into shelter houses, but according to the plan, they will not be at the port more than 90 minutes.

The Aquarius rescue vessel left last week from the shores of Libya and was stranded in the Mediterranean Sea after Italy and Malta refused to let them dock at their ports.

There are a total of 629 migrants of 27 different nationalities, journalists onboard the ship have published.

The Spanish government, led by the Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez, decided on Monday to offer Valencia as a "safe harbor" so that the Aquarius could dock.
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France offers to take in immigrants of Aquarius ship

VALENCIA Spain (Xinhua) -- France offered on Saturday to help Spain take in immigrants from the ship Aquarius, which will arrive on Sunday in Valencia (eastern Spain) after being stranded in the Mediterranean when leaving last week from the shores of Libya, said Spain’s Deputy prime minister Carmen Calvo.

"France will accept migrants who, after arriving at the port of Valencia and once they have complied with all the protocols established by the reception procedure, express their desire to go to this country," the deputy prime minister said in a statement, citing the French government.

Calvo, who is in charge of coordinating the reception, accepted the French government proposal, after having a conversation with the ambassador of this country in Spain, according to the statement.

Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, thanked the cooperation of French President Emmanuel Macron, and stressed that this "is the framework of cooperation with which Europe must respond" to the problem of illegal immigration.

Meanwhile, Valencia is preparing to receive on Sunday the three ships that transport the 629 migrants who initially departed from the Libyan coast aboard the Aquarius.

When leaving the Libyan coast, the ship was stranded on the high seas because Italy and Malta refused to allow the ship carrying migrants of 27 nationalities to dock.

They had to be transferred to other ships so that they could arrive at the port safe and sound.

On Monday, the Spanish government led by the socialist Pedro Sanchez, offered Valencia "as a safe harbor" so that the Aquarius could dock.
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France, Italy have to manage migration crisis together: Macron

PARIS France (Xinhua) -- "France and Italy have to manage this (migration) situation together," French President Emmanuel Macron said at a joint press conference with Giuseppe Conte, the head of the Italian government, after a lunch Friday at the Elysee.

According to Macron, France and Italy must "be able to move forward together for a common protection of our borders" and work "together, hand in hand", on the issues of migration flows facing the European Union.

Macron insisted on the need to "strengthen cooperation between European states" and also the strengthening of Frontex, the European coastguard and border guard agency of the European Union.

Macron said he wanted to reorganize the management of the arrival of migrants and to review the system of "solidarity" between the countries of the European Union.

"Our collective organization is not the right one," said the French president.

This meeting between the two leaders is held after several days of tensions between France and Italy concerning the management of the migration crisis.

Operated by the charity SOS Mediterrane, the Aquarius which carried 629 migrants and refugees on board, was denied entry in Italian ports last week after wandering for over 36 hours in the central Mediterranean.

On Monday, Spain finally agreed to host the ship at the port of Valencia and offered to take in the migrants, most of them sub-Saharan Africans who were picked up off the Libyan coast over the weekend.

Macron accused Italy’s new populist government of "cynicism and irresponsibility" for closing its ports to the 629 migrants.

At the joint press conference, Macron said France "will assume its responsibilities" if a new case similar to Aquarius is represented.

The new Italian government was forged on a political platform promising a tough approach on irregular immigration, and a stop in the reception of migrants and refugees.
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U.S. Navy ship still at sea with 40 refugees on
board as Italy maintains closed-door policies

ROME Italy (Xinhua) -- The United States Naval vessel Trenton remained at sea Friday awaiting a permission to land in Italy with at least 40 migrants whose lives were saved when they were rescued from their sinking boat off the coast of Libya.

The fate of Trenton is the latest chapter in Italy’s new stance on migrant and refugee arrivals in the country. In the last week, the Aquarius, a ship operated by two non-governmental rescue groups was turned away with 629 on board.

The Diciotti, an Italian Coast Guard ship with more than 900 refugees on board, was allowed to land in part because it was an Italian ship.

The Trenton, which is based in Italy, said in a statement that it picked up the refugees Wednesday according to standard maritime protocol.

According to a statement from the captain of the ship, the 35 men and five woman are from 11 different African countries.

The group includes four unaccompanied minors.

In an emailed statement, Italy said its policy of turning away vessels carrying migrants had not changed, though the statement did not mention the Trenton by name.

The new Italian government was forged on a political platform promising a tough approach on irregular immigration, and a stop in the reception of migrants and refugees.
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Long-delayed action on migration crisis stirs frustration among EU lawmakers

STRASBOURG (Xinhua) -- European leaders debated priorities Tuesday with the lawmakers here, and the long-delayed actions on migration crisis has stirred frustration among the European Parliamentary.

"Preventing future crises is just as important as managing the current crisis," European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said in an address to the European Parliament, gathered for its plenary session which was in preparation for the European Council summit of June 28-29.

He called for the European Council to take definitive action in reforming the Dublin system, which regulates how migrants and asylum seekers arriving in the European Union are managed.

"The situation in the Mediterranean is a stark reminder that we cannot wish problems away," Timmermans added.

Monika Panayotova, Deputy Minister for the Bulgarian Presidency of the European Council, told the European Parliament that "much had been achieved in the past years to strengthen our overall migration policy, with tangible results on the ground".

Assuring MEPs that the Bulgarian Presidency of the European Council had made migration a priority, and that intensive negotiations had led to more concrete solutions for the issue, Panayotova admitted that "Dublin reform remains difficult".

The Bulgarian official was quickly rebuked by President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani, who reminded Panayotova that MEPs had already overwhelmingly adopted recommendations for the overhaul of the Dublin Rules.

The European Parliament’s text "is both firm and expresses solidarity", Tajani said, adding that it expresses a plea to the Council for them to take on board the serious proposal that garnered a huge majority to reform the Dublin rules and that has not been done up until now.

Tajani was referring to a November 2017 resolution adopted by the European Parliament that set for a series of guidelines for common asylum policy reform within interinstitutional negotiations between the Parliament and the European Council.

Leaders of the political groups also criticized the European Council for not taking decisive action on the migration crisis, ongoing since 2015, the year which saw over a million people arrive on European soil by irregular means.

Addressing the European Council representative on behalf of the Socialists and Democrats, Udo Bullman, lamented the plight of the Aquarius, a migrant ship that was recently accepted by Spain after being refused entry by Italy.

"No, you don’t have time to postpone the issue of migration," Bullman hammered at Panayotova, "there is no excuse for not doing anything," he said.

"I have only one question: when, for heart’s sake, will the European Council take a decision on this migration issue, and when will you take a responsibility?" asked Guy Verhofstadt on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.

Verhofstadt, former Prime Minster of Belgium, had strong words for the European Council, promising legal action if the body made up of European heads of state and government could not reach a decision.

"If EU leaders fail to agree to reform our common European migration & asylum system at EUCO, we have to bring the Council to Court under art.265 of the Treaty for ‘failure to act’," he tweeted on Tuesday.

"We all know that the Dublin Rules don’t work; we’ve been saying that for years here in the Parliament, we’ve been having proposals for how to fix it for years, and it doesn’t get any better," added Ska Keller on behalf of the European Greens.

The June 28-29 Summit will be the last of the Bulgarian Presidency of the European Council before it is succeeded by Austria.

In addition to migration, other major topics including Brexit, security and defense cooperation, the EU’s long-term budget, and Eurozone reform will be on the summit agenda.
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Italy to help ferry rejected migrants reach Spain as EU partners bicker

ROME Italy (Xinhua) -- A humanitarian migrant-rescue NGO said Tuesday a refugee ship will head to Spain with help from Italy, which will provide Coast Guard and navy ships to help transport 629 asylum seekers that were rescued from international waters off Libya last week.

The Aquarius ship run by SOS Mediterranee NGO confirmed Tuesday it has been told to reach the Spanish port city of Valencia, which is 760 nautical miles and over three days’ voyage away from its present location.

"After 36 hours of standby in international waters 27 nautical miles from (the island nation of) Malta and 35 miles from Sicily, Aquarius has received official instructions to reach safe harbor" in Valencia, said the NGO, which is made up of associations from France, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland.

The 629 rescued men, women, and children come from countries including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cameroon, and Nigeria, according to RAI public broadcaster.

Italy on Sunday refused to let the Aquarius dock on its shores, sparking a row among European member states. Some, like Spain and France, slammed Italy’s decision while others, such as Austria and Hungary, praised it.

The Italian government replied in a statement Tuesday that the country "cannot accept hypocritical lessons from countries that have always preferred to look the other way on immigration."

Meanwhile, EU officials warned that this issue can make or break the Union.

"This incident tells us that we must intervene immediately," European Parliament chief Antonio Tajani, who is Italian, told RAI in an interview.

Tajani said the EU must reform its so-called Dublin Agreement, which says that asylum seekers must apply for protection in the country of first arrival.

This means Italy and Greece bear the brunt of the migrant crisis, because their southernmost islands are the first landfall for people fleeing from North Africa and the Middle East.

"We must save Europe," Tajani told RAI. "If there is no common agreement the entire European Union is in danger."

He was echoed by EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos.

"The incident in the Mediterranean with the Aquarius vessel... has reminded us once again that migration is not just a theoretical discussion," he told the European Commission on Tuesday.

"No one believes this is an Italian responsibility" but rather "a European issue, requiring a European response," said Avramopoulos, who proposed to triple the funding for migration and border management to almost 35 billion euros (over 41 billion U.S. dollars) for 2021-2027, compared to 13 billion euros in the previous period.

"Our policy and budget for migration, asylum and borders need to be flexible and effective, but equally fair and proportionate," Avramopoulos tweeted.

"We cannot continue the political ping-pong of who is responsible.

"Because we all are: the EU as a whole with all Member States."

Meanwhile, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, tweeted that he plans to travel to Libya by the end of the month because "this situation must be resolved directly within the African continent".

"Thanks to Italy, Europe is finally changing: we must protect our borders in order to defend our citizens," tweeted Salvini.

A total of 14,441 migrants have reached Italy as of June 12 this year, down 77.45 percent compared to the same period in 2017, according to the interior ministry.
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Hungarian and Slovakian leaders praise Italy for refusing migrant ship to dock

BUDAPEST Hungary (Xinhua) -- Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Slovakia’s counterpart Peter Pellegrini praised the Italian government for refusing to allow the migrant ship Aquarius to dock in Italy, at a joint press conference here on Tuesday.

On Monday, some 629 people were stranded in the Mediterranean aboard the Aquarius, according to the UNHCR. Italy had refused to allow the migrant ship to enter any of its ports in its southern regions.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez later allowed the ship to dock in Spain.

This was the first time Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s recently installed government—formed on a coalition of far-right League and anti-establishment Five Star Movement—decided to turn away migrants and refugees saved during the Mediterranean crossing.

Asked about the Italian refusal to let the ship dock in Italy, Orban said:

"The willpower to defend maritime borders has returned in Italy, which could lead to a change in the European migration policy," adding that the government in Rome had Hungary’s full support.

Also on the issue of migration, Orban commented on a recent declaration by German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the fact that the Hungarian border fence protected Germany as well.

"We respect the will of the Germans to let in several hundreds of thousands of migrants in their country.

"We only ask the same in return, that they respect our decision not to invite the migrants," Orban underlined.

"If we stay tolerant towards one another, I believe that we will stay in strategic partnership," he added, stressing that he was hopeful that German-Hungarian relations would remain on the grounds of common sense.

Slovakia takes the helm of the rotating presidency of the Visegrad Group (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia) in July. Pellegrini declared that migration would be a key topic of its presidency.

"I want to emphasize that we must stop the policy of saving all the people who throw themselves into the water: the coast guards or the police save them and suddenly they are sent to the territory of the EU.

"We have to place them in hot spots outside EU territory," Pellegrini said.

"The Italian response was just the beginning: the EU’s external borders must be strengthened," he added.

"We refuse to bring migrants into our countries: we reserve the right to choose with whom we want to live or not, and it is out of the question to pay a quota per capita in case of refusal.

"On the other hand, we can and will help in the defense of the borders with the sending of soldiers or of the police," he said.

"Orban’s position is very clear on migration, but it also completely reflects the position of the other leaders of the Visegrad countries and 90 percent of the population of these countries.

"For this reason our point of view will not change," he concluded.

The two leaders praised the good relations between their two countries and the common projects of the Visegrad Group, such as the building of a high-speed trade between the Polish and the Hungarian capital via the Slovakian capital, and the construction of new motorways and bridges.
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UNHCR chief welcomes Spain’s decision to allow migrant ship Aquarius to dock

GENEVA (Xinhua) -- The decision Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez made Monday to allow the ship Aquarius carrying migrants and refugees to dock in Spain is "courageous and welcome," the head of the UN refugee agency UNHCR said.

"It ends what was becoming an increasingly difficult and untenable situation for the crew of the Aquarius and the more than 600 rescued people who were aboard," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi in a statement here.

Earlier on Monday some 629 people were stranded in the Mediterranean aboard the Aquarius, said UNHCR.

Italy had refused to allow the migrant ship to enter any of its ports in the southern regions and had urged Malta to receive them.

"Our Port Authority has repeatedly wrote to authorities in Valletta (Malta’s capital) in order for them to face their responsibility for the first time," Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini wrote in a joint statement with Infrastructure Minister Danilo Toninelli published on Facebook.

The vessel was in waters off Malta and Italy, but no country had allowed those aboard to disembark.

"The rescue happened in the Libyan search and rescue area and it was coordinated by the rescue coordination center in Rome.

Malta is neither the coordinating authority and has no competence on this case," a Maltese government spokesperson had said.

"Irrespective of how European countries choose to manage their sea borders, the principle of rescue at sea is one that should never be in doubt," said Grandi.

He said he would welcome the opportunity to discuss with concerned governments arrangements for search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean and to avoid any repetition of the situation in which the Aquarius found itself.

So far in 2018, Italy has seen some 13,706 people arrive to the country by sea, a significant decrease from recent years, said UNHCR.

This was the first time Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s recently installed government—formed on a coalition of far-right League and anti-establishment Five Star Movement—decided to turn away migrants and refugees saved during the Mediterranean crossing.

The two parties forged an alliance on the base of a platform including a crackdown on irregular migrants, and a stop in the reception of those trying to reach Europe from northern African coasts.
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Disaster averted as migrant ship diverted, but clash remains

By Eric J. Lyman ROME Italy (Xinhua) -- Italy’s decision to close its ports to new migrant arrivals has sparked the most direct clash yet between the country’s new European Union-skeptic government and EU leadership in Brussels.

The Aquarius, a ship operated by the humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders and loaded with 629 refugees, was the first ship caught in the crosshairs of this new policy.

On board are more than 120 minors traveling unaccompanied and at least seven pregnant women.

The vessel was stranded at sea and in danger of running low on food and fuel after Italy and Malta, the two closest destinations, refused to let the ship land.

Disaster was averted Monday, after the ship had been at sea for more than 36 hours, when new Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said he would allow the Aquarius to land in the Spanish port of Valencia in order to "avoid disaster".

There are conflicting reports about whether the Aquarius has the fuel, fresh water, and food for the 1,200-kilometer (750-mile) journey to Valencia.

Whatever happens, few think the problem will stop there.

Sanchez stressed that accepting the Aquarius at the Port of Valencia was a one-time solution.

Italian media reports say there is an Italian coast guard vessel at sea with more than 700 more migrants on board.

The nationalist, anti-migrant League is one of the two partners in the Italian government installed June 1.

The leader of the party and Italy’s new interior minister, Matteo Salvini, has been one of Italy’s most vocal critics of migrants, vowing to kick as many as 500,000 of them out of the country.

Upon assuming office he immediately warned that if the EU doesn’t do more to help Italy, the country would "choose other methods".

"Salvini has defined himself by this issue and he has to make at least symbolic steps to satisfy his base," Stefano Allievi, a sociologist with the University of Padova and a commentator on migrant issues, told Xinhua.

"This is an important fight because Italy feels it’s been abandoned by the rest of Europe."

On Sunday, Salvini vowed to stop what he called "the filthy business of illegal immigration".

When the Aquarius was diverted to Spain the following day, Salvini went to social media and declared victory, claiming that his "first goal" had been reached.

At a press conference, Salvini said Spain had a "good heart" for accepting the refugees, but he warned the EU could not count on such actions.

He noted that Malta, the closest port to the Aquarius when it was adrift, also refused to take action.

The episode has caused a rift between Italy and Malta.

Polls show the League’s hardline stance on migrants seems to be working.

In the March 4 general election, the League finished third with about 17 percent of the vote, behind government partner the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement, which totaled 32 percent, and the Democratic Party, which polled 19 percent and is now part of the opposition.

But recent polls show the League with support of nearly a third of voters, in a statistical tie with the Five-Star Movement.

The Five-Star Movement does not support anti-migrant policies as strong as those from the League, but Five-Star leader Luigi Di Maio, Italy’s minister of labor, said he supports recent moves from the League.

"The longer this drags on, the stronger that Salvini, the League, and the anti-migrant sentiment in Italy will grow," Allievi predicted.

More than 600,000 migrants have landed on Italy’s shores since the start of 2014, and polls show many Italian blame the new arrivals for increases in crime, drug use, prostitution, and delinquency.
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Italy eyes block on migrant-rescue ships: report

ROME (Xinhua) -- Italy may start denying access to foreign vessels bringing rescued migrants to its shores, government sources told Italian news agency ANSA on Wednesday.

A record influx of some 10,000 migrants and refugees over the past four days has prompted Italy to tell the European Union in a formal message that the situation is getting serious.

Italy will continue saving lives at sea but it is "no longer sustainable" for all those rescued to be brought here and the possible block would include foreign vessels run by humanitarian NGOs, by the EU’s Frontex border agency, and by the EU NavforMed mission against migrant traffickers, ANSA reported.

The recent massive flow of rescued refugees also prompted Interior Minister Marco Minniti to announce Tuesday that he was canceling a state visit to Washington DC, local media said.

Almost 9,000 people were rescued between Saturday and Monday, with a further 2,000 plucked on Tuesday from vessels run by human traffickers along the central Mediterranean route from Libya to Italy, according to local media.

Televised footage showed distraught-looking men and women on inflatable dinghies handing babies and crying children to rescuers.

"Among the 1032 #people on board #Aquarius today are 2 newborn babies. Imagine what it takes for a new parent to take their baby to sea," tweeted Doctors Without Borders (MSF) humanitarian NGO on Wednesday, adding that "25 percent of people fleeing Libya are women & kids".

The body of a newborn was also among the arrivals in Italy on Wednesday.

He was born at sea to a 26-year-old Somali woman, and died of post-partum complications soon after their rescue.

"We tried to resuscitate him, but sadly there was nothing we could do," a doctor told Italy’s RAI public broadcaster.

Also among Wednesday’s arrivals was a Spanish Navy ship bringing over 900 migrants to the Italian island of Sardinia, including 126 women—six of them pregnant—and about 50 youngsters, some of them without accompanying adults.

Televised footage showed adults holding hands with children coming down the gangway in the Sardinian port city of Cagliari.

Also on Wednesday, the Lower House whip for Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia party, Renato Brunetta, called on Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and Interior Minister Marco Minniti to stop NGO vessels from entering Italian ports.

"Why don’t some of these ships disembark in Marseille?

"Why don’t they disembark in Spain or Malta?" Brunetta asked.

"It is unacceptable for these ships...to bring tens of thousands of desperate people solely to our country, while the EU keeps acting blind, deaf, and dumb," he was quoted by ANSA as telling reporters at the Lower House.

Italy and Greece are the first European landfall for thousands of men, women, and children embarking on human traffickers’ vessels in a bid to flee war and destitution in Africa and the Middle East.

A total of 76,873 migrants and refugees reached Italy between January 1 and June 28, compared to 67,773 in the same period last year, according to Interior Ministry data published on Wednesday.

             

 

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