Italy cries victory as Spain opens port to rescued migrants

The 629 people on board include 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 children and seven pregnant women.

Malta's prime minister, who had resisted Italian pressure to take the migrants, thanked Spain's new government for defusing the crisis.

Drama over Salvini's closed ports policy intensified Monday morning as a second migrant ship bound for Italy and presently in Libyan waters, having collected its human cargo, was also blocked by the government.

Given that Italy's decision to close their ports was the first strong-man move from anti-immigration Home Affairs Minister and Leader of the League (LEGA), one of the two parties of the ruling coalition, and the murky waters surrounding global obligations, it would appear that the stalemate may continue.

The reason Italy refused to accept the migrants despite the fact the majority of them were rescued by the Italian authorities is a political one, Dr Wolff added.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Sunday that Rome had sent two patrol ships with doctors on board "ready to intervene and ensure the health of anyone on board the Aquarius who might have the need".

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said Italy's refusal to allow the Aquarius ship to dock at an Italian port risked "creating a risky situation for all those involved".

Salvini, who also serves as Italy's interior minister, has promised to change immigration policies in Italy, saying the new Italian government's efforts will be aimed at guaranteeing peaceful lives for Africans in Africa and for Italians in their own country. "We need to have an idea of what port to go to, something that up to now we haven't had". Malta objected, saying that it had been Italian authorities who coordinated the rescue to begin with, The Associated Press writes.

Malta, for its part, has consistently refused to take in migrants, citing its small size and limited capacities.

The island nation has reduced the number of migrants it has taken in over the past decade, from a high of 2,775 in 2008 to just 23 previous year, according to UN statistics. Medical workers say food onboard the ship is going to run out Monday night.

But politics aside, it wasn't certain if the voyage to Spain was feasible given how far that was from the ship's current location and how long the rescue vessel had been at sea.

Mr Salvini, who also serves as Italy's Home Secretary, also said his decision to close the country's ports to NGO boats is "the first signal" to other European Union member countries.

"The boat is now heading north towards a secure port", SOS Mediterranee tweeted on Sunday without specifying its destination, though virtually every such migrant boat over the past five years has ended up in Italy.

"The prime minister has given instructions for Spain to honor global commitments on humanitarian crises and announced that the country will receive the ship Aquarius", his office said in a statement. Political analysts said the rise of the populist movement in Italy was partly fuelled by the surge of migrant arrivals in Italy and their lack of resettlement elsewhere in the EU.

Italy has always been a destination for migrants crossing the Mediterranean and has been dealing with a surge in arrivals in recent years.