Updated | Trouble brewing as Italy warns Malta on migrant rescues

Italy’s Home Affairs Minister Matteo Salvini has accused private migrant rescue groups of acting as water taxis for migrants in the Mediterranean and warned Malta cannot continue to say no to rescues

Italy's Home Affairs Minister Matteo Salvini
Italy's Home Affairs Minister Matteo Salvini

Italy’s hard-line Home Affairs Minister Matteo Salvini has warned Malta that it cannot continue to say no each time it is requested to rescue migrants.

Speaking in Como on Friday, Salvini insisted that Italy’s problem was “not Russian tanks but boats leaving from Libya”.

He said non-governmental groups that operate rescue vessels in the central Mediterranean were acting like water taxis to bring migrants to Italian shores.

Salvini said there was a German NGO that operates a Dutch-flagged ship, which “sails past Malta, waves hello and continues its voyage to Italy” where it disembarks migrants.

“God placed Malta closer to Africa than Sicily and it cannot continue saying no to rescue requests,” Salvini said.

READ ALSO: Greens warn of unilateral action on migration from Italy’s Salvini

His words are certainly to cause concern in Valletta, where the Maltese government has been very careful to adopt a diplomatic approach to the new Italian government.

Salvini’s Lega has made anti-immigration rhetoric a key plank of its electoral platform and this has found its way into the coalition agreement with Cinque Stelle.

The Government of Malta later denied that it did not give assistance to migrants at sea. "Malta adheres to all its obligations at all times.  With regards to Search and Rescue, Malta acts in accordance to the international conventions that apply. Malta will continue to respect these conventions with respect to the Safety of Life at Sea, as happened in this latest case and indeed in each case," the home affairs ministry said.

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