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article imageAquarius 'resumes migrant rescues off Libya'

By AFP     Aug 11, 2018 in World

Two French groups operating the rescue ship Aquarius said Saturday it was back in Libyan coastal waters for the first time since triggering a diplomatic row over migration in June.

The Aquarius picked up 141 people on Friday in two separate operations, SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders said on Twitter.

The Aquarius "remains in the search and rescue zone, and on the lookout for any other craft in distress".

The group's announcement marks a return to the sea after a diplomatic spat that began in June when the Aquarius, having picked up 630 stranded migrants including children and pregnant women, was refused access to dock in Malta and Italy.

Italy's far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini later threatened to turn away any migrant rescue boats, sparking a fresh row among the EU's 28 members over how to handle the influx of people fleeing war and poverty.

After the ship was stranded at sea for days, the new Socialist Spanish government offered to let it land at Valencia, where its passengers disembarked later in June.

Salvini said in a radio interview Saturday that the Aquarius "would never see an Italian port".

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, meanwhile, in a Facebook video, highlighted the sharp decrease in the number of migrants arriving in Italy in his government's first two months in power.

This "without ever losing sight of the protection of the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers and the guarantee of a dignified welcome", he said.

In one of Friday's operations the Aquarius took on board 116 people, including 67 unaccompanied minors, mostly from Somalia and Eritrea.

Their wooden boat was overloaded and carried neither water nor food when it was spotted about 24 nautical miles off the Libyan coast, north of Abu Kammash.

Earlier Friday, the vessel had already rescued 25 migrants who were travelling in a small wooden craft, also off the Libyan coast, north of Zouara.

The Italian coastguard, meanwhile, announced that it had intercepted a boat from Turkey carrying 61 Pakistani men on Thursday night.

On their arrival in Sicily, the men said they had each paid 5,000 euros to make the journey. Two Georgian nationals are believed to have organised their passage.

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