Pope intervenes in latest migrant vessel row

Erika Holt
January 8, 2019

Amid growing concern over the plight of the migrants, some of whom have been at sea for more than two weeks, the European Commission earlier this week called on EU member states to admit them.

The problem has been exacerbated by the fact that Italy, Malta and other European Union nations have been refusing to let aid boats full of rescued migrants dock at their ports. A further seventeen people are waiting on Sea-Eye, picked up a week later.

But Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who leads the anti-immigrant League party and has closed ports to rescue ships, opposes this.

"I make a heartfelt appeal to European leaders to show concrete solidarity for these people", Pope Francis said, raising his voice.

Prior to assuming office, Mr. Salvini repeatedly accused NGO vessels of providing an illegal shuttle service for African migrants to Italy and on more than one occasion denounced the NGOs for accepting financing from billionaire George Soros as part of his efforts to increase migration into Europe.

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They are "all crammed into a small room and literally vomit on each other", said Sea Watch spokeswoman Giorgia Linardi, who fears some of the passengers will self-harm. The number of migrant deaths in the central Mediterranean Sea also decreased significantly, falling from 2,258 to less than half that, or 1,058, in the same six-month period.

"This is an issue that might set a precedent and we should be vigilant about it", Prime Minster Muscat said before the Pope's appeal, accusing critics of acting as "the Christmas saint" while refusing to take in the migrants themselves.

Italy's populist government won't let private aid vessels disembark migrants in Italian ports.

But the bloc's long-running deadlock over sharing responsibility for migrants has yet to be resolved.

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