Italy threatens to return migrants to Libya after spat with Malta

ROME: Italy’s firebrand interior minister Matteo Salvini threatened on Sunday to return migrants caught at sea to Libya — a move potentially in breach of international law.
The threat came on the fourth day of a stand-off over 177 migrants picked up by the Italian coastguard in Maltese search and rescue waters.
Both Malta and Italy are refusing to take in the migrants.
Unless the EU steps in to help, “we will be forced to do what will stop the business of traffickers for good.
That is, escorting back to a Libyan port the people caught at sea,” Salvini said in a statement.
The European Union and the United Nations have repeatedly stated that returning sea migrants to Libya — where they face the risk of abuse and torture — would be illegal.
The Diciotti, an Italian coastguard unit, rescued 190 people on Thursday, but 13 people needing urgent medical assistance were evacuated on the same day to the Italian island of Lampedusa. The Italian government then asked Malta to take the remaining 177 passengers, allowing the Diciotti to dock at one of its ports. Permission for this was refused.
Malta’s behaviour is “unspeakable” and “worthy of sanctions,” Italian Infrastructure and Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli wrote on Twitter on Sunday.
The EU needs to “step forward” and allow for the migrants to be redistributed across several EU nations, Toninelli said, “otherwise [the EU] has no reason to exist.”
A European Commission spokeswoman said the EU’s executive had no comment beyond Friday remarks stating the commission was “ready to lend our full diplomatic weight to swift resolutions.”
Malta Home Affairs Minister Micheal Farruggia replied to Italy via Twitter, saying that “the only definitive solution is to disembark [the migrants] in Lampedusa or in [another] Italian port.”
Farruggia acknowledged that the Italians rescued the migrants in Maltese waters, “but only to prevent them from entering Italian waters.” — dpa