A number of mayors across southern Italy are pushing back against Matteo Salvini's decision Sunday to close off the country's ports to a rescue ship carrying more than 600 migrants.
Spanish President Pedro Sanchez announced Monday afternoon that the ship and its passengers would be welcome in the port of Valencia.
"Malta is neither the competent nor the coordinating authority in this case".
It is also unclear whether the ship has enough fuel and supplies for the roughly 800-mile journey to Valencia.
Malta, for its part, has consistently refused to take in migrants, citing its small size and limited capacities.
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"The rescue ship's crew pulled 229 migrants from the water or from traffickers" unseaworthy boats on Saturday night, including 123 unaccompanied children and seven pregnant women. The ship is equipped for only around 550 people, according to Aloys Vimard, project coordinator on the Aquarius.
Nicola Stalla, search-and-rescue coordinator on the search-and-rescue ship Aquarius, told CNN that the situation was unprecedented. "We are talking about people".
Earlier in the day, the European Commission had urged action. By Monday, the ship still did not know where to disembark the 629 people they had rescued. The Aquarius flies the flag of Gibraltar.
He said Malta should accept the Aquarius, but the government in Valletta said those rescued fall under Italy's jurisdiction as they were picked up the migrants in Libyan waters. "Italy has stopped bowing down, it's now time to say no".
"Several (migrants) need medical assistance, which requires a rapid solution", Doctors without Borders, which runs a medical clinic on the Aquarius, said in a statement.
Speaking to AFP, a Maltese government spokesman insisted that the rescue of the migrants took place in the Libyan search and rescue area and was headed up by the rescue coordination centre in Rome, meaning Malta has no legal obligation to take in the migrants.
Malta refused, saying it had nothing to do with the rescue mission, which was overseen by the Italian coastguard.
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Malta has ignored calls from Italy's hardline interior minister to not "look the other way".
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, today appealed to concerned governments to allow the immediate disembarkation of hundreds of people stranded in the Mediterranean since Saturday aboard a rescue ship, the Aquarius.
SOS Méditerranée spokesperson Mathilde Auvillain said the boat had received orders to head north after a series of sea rescues and was now was awaiting "definitive instructions". "People are in distress, are running out of provisions and need help quickly".
Matteo Salvini, Italy's Interior Minister and Northern League party leader chose to refuse docking to "Aquarius" and redirect the vessel to the Island of Malta, apparently in line with his election promises. While he agreed that there should be a more fair distribution of migrants in the European Union, he said Salvini was "making a point at the cost of people in distress".
Italy's closed its ports to the ship and said it should dock in Malta where Prime Minister Joseph Muscat insists global law determines Italy is responsible for them.
Left-wing mayor Luigi De Magistris said he would welcome in the humanitarian boat and added: "Naples is ready, without funds, to save lives".
Salvini pointed to Malta's unwillingness in accusing Europe as a whole of leaving Italy on its own to deal with the refugee crisis. However, such strong and public rejection of the government's immigration policy is likely put pressure on new Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte just a week into his first term. More than 1.8 million have entered Europe since 2014. The tiny island nation with fewer than a half a million inhabitants says it already accepts more refugees per capita than Italy, which has taken in more than 600,000 boat migrants since 2014. Those incidents delayed the migrants' arrival, but they ultimately made it to Italy.
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Salvini has accused the charities of acting as a "taxi service" for the migrants.