Netherlands turns down request to accept 47 rescued migrants

The Dutch government has refused to accept a group of 47 refugees currently on a rescue ship that is being blocked from docking on Italian ports.

The Sea-Watch 3, run by a German humanitarian group and flying a Dutch flag, rescued the migrants from a rubber boat off the Libyan coast more than a week ago.

Since then it has been sailing through high winds and seven-metre high waves.

Italy‘s Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio said the ship should go to the Netherlands because the ship is flying the Dutch flag, or to France, which he has accused of shirking its responsibilities.

However, following that request, Dutch authorities said they do not think they are responsible, adding that the captain of the Sea-Watch is responsible for finding a suitable harbour.

According to the Dutch government it was also important to distinguish between “genuine refugees and economic migrants”.

“Those who are not entitled to international protection need to be sent back immediately on arrival at European borders,” the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Safety said in a statement.

“Without a clear perspective for such a structural solution, the Netherlands will not participate in ad hoc measures for the disembarkation.”

Earlier this month, 49 refugees, including a baby and several children, were in a similar situation when Italy refused to let two rescue ships into its harbours.

Of those 49 stuck at sea, 32 were rescued by Sea Watch 3 on December 22, while the other 17 were picked up by Dutch boat Sea Eye on December 29.

Malta eventually reached a deal with other European Union member states to allow those migrants to disembark on its shores to join another 249 people already in Malta.

Of those, 176 would be sent to Germany, France, Portugal, Ireland, Romania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Italy. 

Another 78 will be allowed to stay in Malta, while 44 Bangladeshi migrants will be repatriated.

Following that deal, Matteo Salvini, deputy prime minister and leader of the far-right party the League, said Italy should not take any migrants from Malta.

Salvini is pushing for a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy on migrants and vowed for days that none of the 49 migrants would reach Italian soil.

Salvini has also threatened to take legal action against the crew of the ship, accusing it of supporting illegal immigration.

In December, rescue and relief organisations SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders (MSF) announced they are ending the Aquarius refugee rescue mission in the Mediterranean Sea after “a relentless ongoing political, judicial and administrative campaign backed by several European states”.

MSF said its activities on Aquarius, carried out jointly with SOS Mediterranee, assisted nearly 30,000 people in international waters between Libya, Italy and Malta since the operations started in February 2016.

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