Italy to seize rescue ships in new migrant row

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On Thursday, Italy's infrastructure minister Danilo Toninelli had said that two of Mission Lifeline's ships - the Lifeline and the Seefuchs - would be "seized by the Italian government and directed into our ports" to launch an investigation into their legal status.

"The latest drownings show how important our sea rescue efforts are, and that not a single rescue ship can be missed", said Mission Lifeline founder Axel Steier.

Mission Lifeline said Friday that it still has not been assigned a port, despite its requests.

Separately, the United Nations refugee agency has reported that 220 migrants drowned in the same area in recent days.

The EU is a borderless travel zone, meaning once someone enters, he or she is able to move between EU countries freely.

Why is Italy seizing the ships?

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's government coalition is under threat from the issue and there has also been a row over a boatload of migrants rescued from the Mediterranean who were turned away by Italy's new right-wing government.

This was the first time it had requested a port.

And a spokesperson of the European Commission said: "We share Italy's worries over the proposal concerning the second movements".

Whether or not the ship is Dutch is the subject of some debate.

Mission Lifeline, however, later posted an image on Twitter of a registration document it says proves the ships sail under the Dutch flag. The aid group has rescued 675 migrants since 2016, until now handing them over to other ships to continue rescues at sea.

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"We are strictly within worldwide rules and global law so we can not understand what the Italian government is doing", Mission Lifeline co-founder, Axel Steier, told Euronews.

The Lifeline "is registered in the Netherlands", Steir said. "You can't wait until someone has a port for you - you have to act immediately".

The Aquarius, operated by SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders, took the migrants to Spain, travelling an additional 932 miles, after Italy and Malta refused to let them land.

Tempers nevertheless flared up again on Friday when French President Emmanuel Macron likened rising nationalism and anti-migrant sentiment in Europe to "leprosy".

Then on Thursday, without referring directly to Italy, Mr Macron attacked the "leprosy" of anti-EU feeling among "friends and neighbours".

He said the European Union should also work more with Africa, tighten borders further and explore setting up bases outside its territory where it would decide on asylum requests before claimants make it to European Union soil, and hold them there if they were rejected.

Italy's far-right interior minister, Matteo Salvini, also pledged to target Roma for expulsion, prompting comparisons with the country's fascist past. But I take the lessons from those who open their own ports. "Welcome thousands of migrants and then we can talk", he said.

Just two days ahead of the Sunday Brussels meeting where the migration issue will take centre stage, Salvini vowed to make Brussels "face the music".

Rome was angry that the text focused more on the redistribution of the migrants once they had arrived in Europe, rather than on securing Europe's borders.

That means the summit is set to produce even more promises of tightening the bloc's external borders and cooperating closely with countries from Turkey and Jordan to Libya and Niger on preventing refugees and migrants from ever reaching Europe.

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