What rules apply to migrants rescued at sea?

What rules apply to migrants rescued at sea?

Italy's far-right interior minister, Matteo Salvini, who seems ready to vie even with his hero Donald Trump in cruelty toward the most vulnerable, declared victory on Monday in his campaign to defy global law by refusing to accept more than 600 migrants rescued from the Mediterranean this weekend.

"People are in distress, are running out of provisions and need help quickly", said Vincent Cochetel, special envoy for the central Mediterranean for the UN Refugee Agency.

The Aquarius and its passengers were caught up in a crackdown swiftly implemented by the right-wing partner in Italy's new populist government, which has vowed to stop the country from becoming the "refugee camp of Europe". "Malta takes in nobody", he said. "France pushes people back at the border, Spain defends its frontier with weapons".

Tweeting on Sunday, Salvini said: "Starting today, Italy, too, begins to say NO to the trafficking of human beings, NO to the business of clandestine immigration". The ship said it had been ordered by Italy's coast guard coordination centre late Sunday to remain 55 kilometres off Italy and 45 kilometres from Malta.

"The island can not continue looking the other way when it comes to respecting worldwide conventions", said the statement, which was signed by Salvini and transport minister Danilo Toninelli, who is nominally in charge of the ports.

Malta said the rescue operations took place in worldwide waters off Libya and were coordinated by Italy.

Maltese Premier Joseph Muscat accused Italy of violating worldwide norms governing sea rescues and said its stance risked "creating a unsafe situation for all those involved".

Italy's eurosceptic deputy PM Matteo Salvini welcomed as a "victory" Spain's decision to welcome an NGO boat carrying 629 migrants after he refused to open Italian ports to it. Salvini's move was applauded by his supporters, who cheered the new government's stance to strengthen the patrolling of its borders.

Since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, and the Libyan civil war three years later, Italy has absorbed more than 600,000 undocumented or illegal migrants, most of whom arrived by sea from North Africa.

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More than 15 migrants were also in need of medical care, CNN reports.

SOS Mediterranee, the charity co-operating the migrant ship, said it was awaiting instructions about where to disembark from Italy's coastguard, which coordinated the sea rescues.

But UNHCR said letting a boat dock did not mean a country would have to take long-term responsibility for those on board. They've all been rescued at sea after trying to get to Europe from Libya. "Our sole objective is to bring the people we've rescued, in hard conditions yesterday, to a port of safety, ' the group said in a statement".

"It is our obligation to help to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and to offer a safe port to these people", his office said in a statement.

Moreover, Chochetel said that "fundamentally, the principle of rescue at sea must not be put into doubt through incidents like this".

Italy has had to accept some 700,000 migrants since 2013, in line with the controversial Dublin Regulation requiring to declare refugee status in their first country of arrival.

More than 100 migrants died in a single incident earlier this month when an overcrowded boat sank a few miles off the coast of Tunisia.

"It says that the country responsible for operations in that area has primary responsibility for taking them from the ship".

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