Italy to redirect 629 migrants to Malta, says Italian official

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Malta's Prime Minsiter Joseph Muscat continued to insist his country is acting according to worldwide law and that it is Italy's duty to take in the migrants, as Italy's coast guard coordinated the rescues off the coast of Libya.

The Italian government responded with a statement saying "Italy can not accept hypocritical lessons from countries that in the migration field have always preferred to turn their head to the other side", Italian media reported, adding that Rome is considering canceling a summit between Macron and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Friday.

"Malta takes in nobody", he added. His tweet concluded with the hashtag #chiudiamoiporti - which means "we're closing the ports" in Italian.

But the Aquarius is heavily overcrowded, making the four-day trip to Spain particularly perilous.

However the one-off fix was not adequate, the charity said, calling on European leaders to step up and find shared solutions to support countries on the frontline, such as Italy. "France pushes people back at the border, Spain defends its frontier with weapons", Mr Salvini wrote on Facebook.

He suggested that Malta should accept the Aquarius, but it refused arguing that it fell under Italy's jurisdiction.

Malta also blocked the boat access to its shores, before Spain yesterday agreed to welcome the migrants.

The dispute was among the first consequences of political upheaval in Italy, where anti-migrant leaders recently rose to power with a pledge to crack down on new arrivals from the Middle East and Africa.

MSF Sea (Doctors Without Borders) said the medical situation of those on board was "stable for now but unnecessary delay to disembarkation in safe port puts vulnerable patients at risk".

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The UN had called on Malta and Italy to immediately allow the boat to dock, describing the situation as "an urgent humanitarian imperative".

"Italy can not accept hypocritical lessons from countries that have always preferred to turn their backs when it comes to immigration", Conte said in a statement.

"Our objective is the disembarkation in a port of safety of the 629 people now on board the Aquarius - some we rescued yesterday night in hard conditions", she was quoted by Reuters as saying.

On Sunday, when Italy told the Aquarius not to proceed to ports in Sicily, Salvini first pushed Malta to accept the vessel, saying that the tiny European Union island country - in the middle of the Central Mediterranean migration corridor - routinely closes its doors.

"The situation is stable but it can not run" on forever, Laurent said.

As the rhetoric intensified, the Aquarius remained on standby in the Mediterranean Sea with its 629 passengers, including 123 unaccompanied minors and seven pregnant women.

But more than 16 hours after Spain made its offer, the Aquarius, which is operated by the charities SOS Mediterranee and Doctors without Borders, was still drifting at sea close to Malta, awaiting instructions over how to proceed.

But the charity's missions will continue "as long as there are people drowning in the Mediterranean, as long as we have the resources, and as long as we are able to act and we are not kicked out of the area", she said.

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