January 10, 2019 / 12:29 PM / 8 months ago

Malta accuses Italy's Salvini of 'unfounded claims' on migrants

VALLETTA (Reuters) - Malta on Thursday accused Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini of wilful inaccuracy in accusing the small island state of breaking promises to take in Mediterranean migrants.

Italian Deputy Prime Minister and right-wing League party leader Matteo Salvini attends a news conference at the Foreign Press Club in Rome, Italy December 10, 2018. REUTERS/Tony Gentile/Files

Salvini, leader of the far-right, anti-immigrant League party, on Wednesday said Malta had failed to take in 50 migrants who disembarked in July in Sicily.

Malta replied that Salvini had failed to say that Italy had agreed to take in 50 from Malta from a separate disembarkation, and the two countries had agreed to call it even and keep the respective contingents.

In a statement, it invited the Italian government to “revise its statistics and refrain from repeating unfounded claims”.

Salvini shot back on Twitter that he would accept “no lessons from Malta, which for years closed its eyes and let big and little boats sail toward Italy”.

Since Salvini took power in an alliance with the populist 5-Star Movement in June last year, he has closed Italy’s ports to humanitarian rescue ships that it had previously welcomed.

That has led to a number of diplomatic spats with Malta - the European Union’s smallest country and closest to the Libyan coast from which many migrant boats set off - over whose responsibility it is to let the ships dock.

Although boat migrant arrivals fell 80 percent last year, the EU executive Commission in Brussels has still been forced to mediate between member states to share out arrivals.

On Thursday, 51 migrants reached southern Italy in a sailing boat.

In Rome overnight, Salvini agreed with his coalition partners and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to let in a dozen migrants who he had promised to keep out.

Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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