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Over 1,150 migrants rescued off Italy as new government mulls ban on two NGO ships

Rome, Italy

Two migrants were found dead and more than 1,150 were rescued off Sicily, the coast guard said on Wednesday, as the new nationalist government in Rome threatened to prevent two refugee boats run by charities from entering Italian waters.

The coast guard said 663 people and two bodies were picked up from a boat around 60 miles off Sicily, and 494 others were rescued from another fishing boat closer to the island.

The operations were carried out by the coast guard, the financial police and a Spanish vessel working for European Union border agency Frontex.

Meanwhile, around 380 migrants onboard Ocean Viking and Humanity 1, two vessels run by charity organisations, looked set to be denied disembarkation rights by Italy.

The actions of the ships, which have both sought a safe harbour in Italy or Malta, were “not in line” with European and Italian rules on security and border control or the fight against illegal immigration, the interior ministry said in a statement.

New Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi was chief of staff for rightist League leader Matteo Salvini during his term at the interior ministry in 2018-2019, when Italy repeatedly refused to let migrants disembark after they were rescued at sea.

Salvini, who built much of his political fortunes on an anti-immigration platform, is deputy prime minister and infrastructure minister in the new administration.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said in her maiden speech to parliament on Tuesday that she wanted to stop sea departures and warned her government would not allow people to enter Italy illegally.

At least five migrant deaths have been reported since Friday in Lampedusa, a tiny island that is Italy’s southernmost point and often a first target destination for those fleeing north Africa.

They included four babies, a spokesperson for the Doctors without Borders (MSF) charity said.


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