ROME - More than 300 migrants were rescued Friday off the coast of Libya by the Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms. But now they are facing Christmas at sea after Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said Italian ports are closed and they will not be allowed to disembark.
The rescue was carried out by the Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms, which said it had saved the migrants aboard three vessels that were in distress from certain death at sea off the Libyan coastline. This included men, women, children and babies suffering from the cold winter temperature.
The NGO said Malta refused to accept the migrants and would not provide any needed food supplies. Open Arms founder Oscar Camps said among those rescued were pregnant women and a mother with her two-day old baby born on a Libyan beach. Camps asked that the case of the newborn who had spent 24 hours at sea be dealt with urgently by Malta.
A Maltese coastguard helicopter agreed early Saturday morning to airlift the mother and her baby. They were then taken to the Mater Dei hospital on the island, though the Maltese government said it would do no more than that.
Proactiva Open Arms asked Italy to allow them to disembark, but Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said Italian ports are closed. And on twitter Salvini added: "For the traffickers of human beings and those who help them, the fun is over."
Camps angrily responded with his own tweet saying that one day Salvini's rhetoric would be over and his descendants would be ashamed of his behavior in the decades to come. With just days to Christmas, the fate of these 300-plus migrants remains unclear.
The situation in this area of the Mediterranean has become increasingly complicated this year after a populist government came to power in Italy last March and stated clearly that it would behave quite differently than the preceding government in regards to immigration policies. The new government announced it was closing its ports to vessels carrying migrants and called on the EU to share the burden of the endless flow of migrants from Africa.
According to the International Organization for Migration, more than 1,300 migrants have drowned this year alone in their efforts to make the crossing from Africa to Malta or Italy.