Spain takes in 629 migrants stuck in the Mediterranean

629 migrants on ship in limbo after Italy Malta refusal

"By closing their ports, Italy and Malta have not only turned their backs on more than 600 desperate and vulnerable people but also on their obligations under global law", Elisa De Pieri, Amnesty International's Italy researcher, said in a statement.

The Commission says the legal circumstances dictating who should accept the migrants is "anything but clear", however Brussels says both parties are obliged to cooperate to resolve the matter.

Malta said the rescue operations took place in global waters off Libya and were coordinated by Italy.

After Sanchez's move, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte thanked Spain - as did Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat while also blaming Italy for the ship's prolonged journey.

Salvini, leader of the right-wing League, had promised voters ahead of the country's recent general election that it would act tough against immigration.

Media captionOn a visit to Sicily, Matteo Salvini said Italy must increase its deportations of migrants.

Laurent, of SOS Mediterranee, acknowledged Spain's offer of solidarity but said it wasn't up to the Rome-based rescue coordination center run by the Italian coast guard.

Malta has refused to take in the Aquarius.

The number of people attempting to cross the Mediterranean from northern Africa or Turkey has fallen sharply, largely as a result of two controversial deals: one struck in March 2016 between the European Union and Turkey - under which Syrian refugees arriving in Greece from Turkey are sent back - and another made a year ago between Italy and Libya, in which the southern European country pledged to bolster Libya's coast guard so it could spot departing migrant boats and house migrants attempting to cross.

"Starting today Italy will begin to say NO to human trafficking, NO to the business of illegal immigration", Salvini wrote in a Facebook post.

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MSF Sea (Doctors Without Borders) said the medical situation of those on board was "stable for now but unnecessary delay to disembarkation in safe port puts vulnerable patients at risk".

The vessel is now awaiting "definitive instructions", the humanitarian group said. Their number included 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 other children and seven pregnant women.

The Aquarius, a former North Atlantic fisheries protection ship now used by humanitarian groups SOS Mediterranee and Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders), is seen in December 2017 during a rescue operation in the Mediterranean Sea.

"Our objective is the disembarkation in a port of safety of the 629 people now on board the Aquarius - some we rescued yesterday night in hard conditions", she said.

"Nevertheless I am very anxious for the direction taken by Italian authorities".

Meanwhile, the situation with 'Aquarius' was resolved after Spain made a decision to step in following the United Nations refugee agency call to promptly find a way to take the ship full of people in.

The mayors of Palermo, Taranto, Messina and Reggio Calabria, have also said they would be ready to welcome the vessel. If they're going to refuse to accept refugees picked up at sea, what basis do they have to criticize Italy for balking at taking in hundreds more of them every day?

"Malta takes in nobody". Some 400 of the migrants were rescued by the Italian Navy, the Italian coastguard and merchant vessels before being transferred to the Aquarius.

For years the European Union has largely ignored Italy's rising fury at being left to deal with the migration crisis (even when it came from more politically acceptable figures like Matteo Renzi) but with Mr Salvini in charge, that may no longer be possible.

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