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Italy to demand closure of ports to international refugee ships

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Refugees look at the sea from the deck of the NGO Proactiva Open Arms boat that had rescued 59 refugees as they tried to cross the Mediterranean from Libya, July 2, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

Italy wants to prevent ships operating for "international missions" from bringing refugees rescued off Libya to Italian ports, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said Sunday.

"On Thursday, I will put on the European table at Innsbruck a demand to close Italian ports to ships of international missions," Salvini said on his Twitter account, referring to a meeting with his EU counterparts in the Austrian town next week.

"Unfortunately, Italy's governments over the past five years signed accords allowing all boats to bring their migrants in Italy," he said.

Italy's new coalition government has set a goal of zero arrivals, and Salvini, who heads the far-right League party, has already banned boats chartered by charities to enter Italian ports.

The French rescue ship Aquarius and the German boat Lifeline were forced to divert to Spain and Malta respectively last month.

The Innsbruck meeting will be the first of EU justice and interior ministers under the new Austrian presidency of the EU.

Salvini did not name any of the several missions currently patrolling the Mediterranean, but typical among them is the Sophia, EU's anti-trafficking operation set up in 2015 to fight human trafficking.

Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini (AFP)

It is under Italian command with headquarters in Rome.

Another is the Mediterranean maritime border patrol mission Triton, launched in 2014 by Frontex to fight human trafficking. It uses NATO ships in some of its operations.

Overnight Saturday, 106 refugees arrived in the eastern Sicilian port of Messina after they were rescued Thursday off of Libya by the Irish naval vessel Samuel Beckett.

For the time being, Italy must still accept refugees rescued by its own coast guard or by cargo ships asked to intervene by the Italian coast guard.

Since the start of the year, 16,687 refugees have arrived in Italy including some 11,000 from Libya, or 80 percent fewer than last year over the same period, according to Italian interior ministry figures out Thursday.

(Source: AFP)

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