Fresh migrant stand-off with Italy's Salvini

Rome (AFP) –


A charity rescue ship run by German NGO Sea-Eye was blocked outside Italian territorial waters on Thursday with 40 migrants on board, after Italy's far-right interior minister banned it from entering.

The migrants on the Alan Kurdi ship, rescued Wednesday off Libya, hail from West Africa and include a pregnant woman, three young children and a man with gunshot wounds, according to Sea-Eye.

There were also two survivors of a bombing of a Tripoli detention centre that killed dozens of migrants in July, it said.

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who has taken a hard line against migrants entering the country, said the rescue was a "provocation" and accused the crew of behaving "in a petty fashion".

Meanwhile two other charity ships were set to provide another challenge to Salvini, who is also deputy prime minister.

On Thursday the Spanish migrant rescue charity Proactiva Open Arms ship rescued 52 people, including 16 women and two babies, found adrift in a boat that was taking on water and in danger of capsizing midway between the Libyan coast and the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Meanwhile the Norwegian-flagged Ocean Viking, operating for Humanitarian groups SOS Mediterranee and Doctors and Without Borders (known by its French initials MSF), was preparing to set sail for the zone off the Libyan coast where migrants have frequently been rescued.

- 'This is blackmail' -

The Alan Kurdi ship sailed north from Libyan waters overnight and came to a stop off Lampedusa on Thursday.

Salvini says the rescue operation took place much closer to Tunisia than Lampedusa, so those saved should be taken there.

But rights campaigners say Tunisia cannot be considered a "safe port" because it has repeatedly blocked migrants at sea before repatriating them, without giving them time to apply for asylum.

The minister blocked an Italian coast guard ship off Lampedusa last week, only letting the migrants disembark in Sicily on Wednesday after a deal with the Italian church and five European countries to take them.

On Thursday Salvini said that the German government had told the European Commission that unless the 40 migrants onboard the Alan Kurdi were allowed to disembark in Italy it would not take in a group of 30 migrants it had already promised to accept.

"This is real blackmail," said Salvini. "It confirms that other European countries consider Italy as their refugee camp, but things have changed and we no longer accept orders and invasions."

There was no immediate word from Berlin on Salvini's accusation.

During its last rotation off Libya in early July, the Alan Kurdi rescued 109 migrants and disembarked them in Malta.

A few days earlier, the Sea-Watch -- another German charity -- forcibly landed migrants in Lampedusa after deciding those rescued posed a danger to themselves and others after a lengthy stand-off at sea.

Captain Carola Rackete was arrested but it was overturned by a court, however the ship was seized as part of a police investigation.