MILAN (Reuters) - Italy criticized Malta on Sunday over its refusal to take in the Dutch-flagged MV Lifeline ahead of a meeting of European Union leaders in Brussels over the dispute on migration.
Italian Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli criticized Malta on his Facebook page, where he also posted a copy of an official note from Malta saying it would not intervene except to offer emergency services in a few cases.
Italy’s new populist government has thrust migration back onto the European Union agenda and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has pledged to no longer let ships offload rescued migrants in the country.
Toninelli said the Lifeline, with over 230 migrants on board, was stationary in the SAR (Search and Rescue) waters off Malta, adding no other country was coordinating operations meaning Malta’s responsibilities were greater still.
Malta has previously said the country is not the competent authority because initial SAR operations were done by Libya and the ship breached obligations to oblige by Libyan instructions.
“The inhumanity of Malta is the mirror of Europe’s attitude,” Toninelli said.
Italy has become the main route into Europe for economic migrants and asylum seekers, with hundreds of thousands making the perilous crossing from North Africa each year and thousands dying at sea.
In an interview in Italian daily Il Messaggero on Sunday foreign minister Enzo Moavero Milanesi said the EU had been particularly inactive on the migrant issue allowing national self-interests to prevail.
Asked if Italy might consider cutting its contribution to the EU budget were a solution not found, the minister said it was early days because talks on the 2021-2027 budget were only at the beginning.
“But here too unanimity is needed and if we weren’t happy we wouldn’t give our assent,” he said.
Reporting by Stephen Jewkes; editing by David Evans