Stranded migrants to be taken to Spain, says French charity

Media playback is unsupported on your device                  Media caption On a visit to Sicily Matteo Salvini said Italy must increase its deportations of migrants

The migrants were rescued in six separate night-time operations in the central Mediterranean on Saturday.

Writing on his Facebook page, Salvini said: "Malta takes in nobody".

French President Emmanuel Macron denounced the decision to block the Aquarius, operated by the Franco-German charity SOS Mediterranne, saying global law obligated Italy to take in the migrants.

The Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez said he would give the ship "safe harbour" and that he wanted to help avoid a humanitarian emergency.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which is operating the Aquarius alongside SOS Mediterranne, urged Rome to drop plans for the lengthy trip to Spain for its migrant passengers.

"The prime minister has given instructions for Spain to honor global commitments on humanitarian crises and announced that the country will receive the ship Aquarius", his office said in a statement.

Sanchez went on say that "It is our duty to help avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and offer a safe harbour to these people in accordance with worldwide law".

The NGOs suggested that the hundreds on board "are running out of provisions". The ship San Giusto then assisted the Aquarius teams in a final transfer of 119 shipwrecked people from Italian merchant ship MV Jolly Vanadio to the Aquarius.

The EU and the bloc's biggest member state Germany made similar pleas.

Italy's Coast Guard said in a statement that two Italian ships would take on board some of the migrants, easing conditions on the overcrowded Aquarius.

The decision by the new socialist Spanish government provides a stark contrast to that of its Italian counterpart, which on Sunday took the drastic step of refusing entry to the ship.

The exulting by Salvini, who is also deputy premier, almost eclipsed the satisfaction expressed by his fellow deputy, Luigi Di Maio, who leads the governing coalition's senior partner, the euroskeptic 5-Star Movement.

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"Evidently it pays to raise one's voice, something Italy hasn't done as long as one can remember", Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, the League's leader, said Monday at party headquarters. "Saving lives is a duty, but transforming Italy into an enormous refugee camp isn't".

Tweeting out the hashtag #CloseMyPorts, Salvini identified the Sea Watch 3, a Dutch-flagged vessel working for a German open-borders group, telling his followers: "Italy has stopped bending its head and obeying, this is the time where we say no".

The Maltese government insisted it was "acting in full conformity with its worldwide obligations".

On Friday of last week, it was the first vessel to reach the coast of Libya after a new populist and openly anti-immigrant government had taken office in Italy.

"This happens, if there are not enough rescue assets in place and a safe passage is absent", the NGO said. It added that the Aquarius "is still waiting for definitive instructions regarding the port of safety".

Doctors Without Borders reported that 15 of the migrants needed medical attention for severe chemical burns.

Corsican leaders Gilles Simeoni and Jean-Guy Talamoni, the top politicians on the French Mediterranean island, tweeted their offer on Tuesday morning as uncertainty grew over the fate of the 629 people on board the ship. "We need to show solidarity which Italy has not shown". They included 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 other children and seven pregnant women.

An Italian official says the country will turn away a boat full of more than 600 migrants from its shores and direct them to Malta instead.

Italy's coast guard and navy and private cargo ships picked up 400 of the migrants before they were transferred to the vessel operated by humanitarian group SOS Mediterranee.

Italy refused because some politicians there don't want the country to take in as many migrants as it has in the past.

"Naples is ready, without funds, to save lives", he said.

European Union leaders in December had set an end-of-June deadline for an overhaul of rules to create a permanent mechanism to deal with migrants in the event of a new emergency.

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