Malta and Italy in stand-off over boat carrying 630 asylum seekers
Italy and Malta were in a tense stand-off last night over which country should accept an NGO rescue boat carrying nearly 630 migrants.
Malta said the rescue of the migrants, who set out from Libya, had been co-ordinated by Rome and was therefore the responsibility of Italy.
But Italy's coalition government, in what could be the start of a new, hard-line stance, said it would not accept the asylum seekers either.
Matteo Salvini, the interior minister, who is also head of the hard-right, anti-migrant League party, wrote an urgent letter to Malta saying that the Maltese capital, Valletta, was the nearest port of call.
Mr Salvini's stance could herald the eventual closing of all Italian ports to NGO vessels with migrants on board, the Italian press speculated.
He has criticised humanitarian organisations for providing what he has called a "taxi service" for migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean from Libya.
More than 700,000 have reached Italy in the last five years, with Rome long complaining that it has been left to fend for itself by the rest of the EU.
The 629 migrants were rescued by the Aquarius, a vessel operated by the charities Médecins Sans Frontières and Sos Mediterranee, off the coast of Libya on Saturday.
Mr Salvini wants to dramatically speed up the repatriation of migrants whose asylum applications have been rejected.
He aims to expel up to half a million unauthorised migrants. (© Daily Telegraph, London)