Two rescue ships with 164 migrants on board, including two pregnant women, were seeking a safe harbour yesterday, after Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini insisted that they would not be allowed into Italy.
Spanish non-governmental organisation Open Arms rescued 69 migrants from waters off the Libyan coast overnight to raise the total aboard its vessel to 124, the organisation said on Twitter.
The migrants showed clear signs of having been subjected to violence in Libya, Open Arms head Oscar Camps said.
Among them were two pregnant women, one of whom went into labour, and nine-month-old twins.
Most are from Eritrea.
The ship’s captain, Marc Reig, told a Spanish television crew on board that he had appealed to the relevant authorities in Libya, Malta, and Italy without receiving a response.
Late on Thursday, Salvini banned the Spanish-flagged vessel from entering Italy’s territorial waters.
Separately, the German aid organisation Sea-Eye said that Italy had demanded Malta take responsibility for the Alan Kurdi, a rescue vessel operated by the group.
It currently has 40 migrants on board and is close to the Italian island of Lampedusa.
Italian coastguard authorities shifted responsibility to Malta, “even though the ship lies immediately off Lampedusa”, Sea-Eye tweeted yesterday.
“Malta is more than 20 hours away. An unbearable conflict is being conducted on the backs of the refugees,” Sea-Eye said, adding that Italy had refused to take even children or pregnant women to port.
A small boy with a bullet wound would now be transferred to Malta, Sea-Eye said.
The ship would also now sail to the Mediterranean island.
Salvini had earlier banned the Alan Kurdi – named for a three-year-old Syrian refugee who drowned off the Turkish coast in 2015 – from entering an Italian port, threatening it would be confiscated if it did so.
Meanwhile, the Ocean Viking rescue vessel, operated by SOS Mediterranee and Doctors without Borders, was preparing to leave the French port of Marseille to sail for Libyan waters.
It has capacity for 200 people.
The Italian NGO Mediterranea Saving Humans also reported that the confiscation of its Mare Jonio ship had been lifted and it was intending to set off on a new mission.
Salvini maintained his hard line, insisting that other EU states take in the migrants, and on Thursday he accused Germany of “blackmail”.
Germany had proposed to take in 30 migrants off an Italian coastguard vessel, the Gregoretti, if Italy in exchange takes the 40 off the Alan Kurdi, Salvini said.
However, sources in the German government told DPA that it also offered to take in migrants from the Alan Kurdi.
The German interior ministry said: “It is important for Germany to save people from drowning and to avoid ships sitting in front of European ports for days or weeks before they are allowed to dock.”
A spokeswoman for the European Commission said it was mediating between the EU states in search of a solution for the migrants on board the Alan Kurdi.
Some countries had already agreed to accept migrants from the ship, the spokeswoman said.
Salvini allowed 131 migrants on board the Gregoretti to disembark on Wednesday after reaching a deal with other EU member states.
The EU has yet to come to an arrangement for distributing migrants, despite repeated attempts to do so.