France, Malta will take 50 rescued migrants each, Italy PM says

#Migration

Separately, Spain saves more than 340 people in Mediterranean on Saturday, including one attempting crossing on truck tyre

A weary person rests after arriving aboard coastguard boat in Algecira, Spain, on Saturday (AFP)
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Monday 16 July 2018 6:22 UTC
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France and Malta have agreed to host 50 people each, responding to a request for help sent by Italy after it took part in the rescue of 450 migrants from an overcrowded ship in the Mediterranean, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said.

"France and Malta will respectively take 50 migrants each... other countries will follow very quickly," Conte said on his Facebook page.

"This is the first important result obtained after a day of phone calls and written exchanges I have had with all 27 European leaders," Conte said.

French officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat confirmed that his tiny Mediterranean island would accept 50 people. "Malta not only demands but offers solidarity," he tweeted.

The migrants, like thousands of others, had set sail from Libya in a single wooden vessel that was identified on Friday while passing through waters under Malta's jurisdiction.

Earlier on Saturday, a ship operated by EU border agency Frontex and a vessel owned by Italy's tax police picked up about 450 people from the boat near the Italian island of Linosa, more than 100 nautical miles from Malta. Valletta had rejected pressure from Rome on Friday to rescue them.

Conte posted the text of two separate letters he sent to European heads of state and government and to the presidents of the European Commission and the European Council.

"We have to act together with urgency to face this complex and very sensitive situation," Conte wrote in one letter.

Conte also called for further measures to tackle illegal immigration, including pan-EU rules for private boats rescuing migrants, a strengthening of Frontex and talks with the United Nations on centres for asylum seekers outside Europe.

Conte said Italy would take some of the rescued migrants if other countries also agreed to share the burden.

Italy's far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who is leading a high-profile campaign to exclude humanitarian rescue ships from Italian ports, had insisted earlier on Saturday that the migrants could not land in Italy.

Eight of the migrants who needed medical assistance were taken to the Italian island of Lampedusa for treatment.

Salvini and Conte agreed by phone on Saturday there were three possible options, a source at the premier's office said.

"The migrants could be distributed immediately among European countries, or Italy would contact Libya to send them back to where they came from," the source said.

A third option would be to leave the migrants on the ships temporarily while their asylum requests are considered, the source added.

Libyan officials ruled out helping Rome on the matter.

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"No, we will not accept any illegal migrants after they are rescued by rescue ships...," the spokesman of Libya's coastguard, Ayob Qassem, told Reuters.

Under international law, refugees cannot be returned to a place where their lives are in danger. Both the United Nations and EU have ruled that Libya is not safe, though Salvini this week asked EU interior ministers to change that status. German, Austrian and French ministers agreed it could be done, Salvini said.

Last month, the French rescue ship Aquarius and the German boat Lifeline, who between them were carrying hundreds of migrants, were forced to divert to Spain and Malta respectively after Italy turned them away. 

Italy, Greece and Spain have been on the front line of the migrant crisis, with Europe deeply divided over how to share the burden of the influx of people seeking a new life in Europe. 

Spain saves 340 people

Separately, Spanish rescuers saved more than 340 migrants in the Mediterranean on Saturday, including one person from north Africa who was attempting the crossing on board a truck tyre, they said.

Salvamento Maritimo, Spain's coastguard, said their ships had rescued 240 people spread out in 12 boats, 10 of them in the Strait of Gibraltar and two others in the Alboran Sea, and on the truck tyre.

A spokesman added that the Guardia Civil police force had also saved more than 100 migrants in the Mediterranean.

Spain is set to overtake Italy as the country of choice for migrants trying to reach Europe.

About 16,902 people have arrived in Spain so far this year, the International Organization for Migration's most recent figures show, and a further 294 have died in the attempt.

All in all, more than 1,400 migrants have lost their lives in the Mediterranean this year, they add.