The Italian government is insisting that Malta takes in 629 migrants that were rescued near Libya on Sunday (10 June 2018) morning, saying that its ports were closed.
The migrants are currently on board the Gibraltar-registered ship Aquarius, but according to reports most of them had been saved by the Italian navy in the first place.
They were rescued in Libyan territorial waters, in an area that is closer to Tunis and Lampedusa than it is to Malta. The operation was coordinated by the Rome Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC).
This is the second migrant dispute between Italy and Malta in the space of three days.
On Friday, new Italian home affairs Minister Matteo Salvini said Malta could not always say no to migrant rescues. He was speaking after the rescue of 180 migrants which were eventually disembarked in Calabria
The Italian government said Malta had refused to take them in but Malta said it was not the closest safe port when the rescue took place.
Malta has hardly taken in any migrants over the past years, with many speculating about a secret agreement, supposedly brokered between Joseph Muscat and former Italian PM Matteo Renzi. The government had at one point admitted that such an agreement existed but backtracked a few hours later. It has denied the existence of such an agreement ever since.
Speaking on Sunday morning, Muscat insisted that Malta always followed international law, adding that the government wanted to clear up any misunderstandings with the newly formed government in Italy.
MSF the NGO that picked up the migrants in this latest dispute says the group includes 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 children seven pregnant women. The migrants on board were rescued in six different operations.
Speaking to Malta Today, a government spokesperson said: “The rescue happened in the Libyan search and rescue area and it was coordinated by the rescue coordination centre in Rome. Malta is neither the coordinating authority and has no competence on this case.”