Italy threatens to close ports to NGO migrant rescue ships

Migration a 'biblical exodus', says Italian MP

A total of 76,873 migrants and refugees reached Italy between January 1 and June 28, compared to 67,773 in the same period a year ago, according to Interior Ministry data published on Wednesday.

Italy's ambassador to the EU, Maurizio Massari was given a formal mandate by his government to raise the issue with European Migration and Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos on Wednesday.

The dramatic move comes after almost 11,000 asylum-seekers and economic migrants, mainly from African nations, arrived on Italian shores in a four-day period from war-wracked Libya.

Three migrants died in the Mediterranean on Monday night, a German aid group said, during Italian-led rescue operations in which thousands more were pulled to safety from rickety boats.

The Italian coastguard takes the lead in coordinating rescue operations, but numerous vessels run by non-profit groups sail under the flags of other nations - including European Union countries like Germany and Malta. That would affect mostly European-based humanitarian rescue ships, which have flooded the waters off Libya's coast in the past year to pick up migrants.

The head of the conservative Northern League, Matteo Salvini, resorted to a slogan "stop the invasion" as he spoke out against migrant arrivals in Italy. At the current rate, and with months of good sailing weather ahead, the number of migrants is on track to exceed the 200,000 who landed in Italy in 2016.

Both Germany and France have said Italy, after the closure of the Turkey route, has been left alone to fend with the refugee crisis for too long.

Other EU nations have closed their borders to migrants, hoping to block them from moving north. Poland and Hungary have refused to host some asylum seekers to help ease the burden on Italy and Greece, another front line country.

The populist Five Star Movement has also called for a halt to new migrant arrivals in Rome.

"But what we're also saying is that any change in policy should first be discussed with other member states, and also properly communicated to the NGOs who are running these boats so that they have time to prepare". Often that country is Italy.

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