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629 Migrants Stranded As Italy Shuts Ports

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629 Migrants Stranded As Italy Shuts Ports

A ship carrying more than 600 rescued migrants, including 123 unaccompanied minors and seven pregnant women, remained stranded in the Mediterranean Sea on Monday after Italy's new populist government refused permission for it to dock the day before in a move described by rescuers as unprecedented.

Matteo Salvini, Italy's hardline interior minister and leader of the anti-immigration League party, called on the country to "close the ports" and pledged Sunday to "STOP the filthy business of illegal immigration," according to CNN and the BBC.

The search-and-rescue ship Aquarius is operated by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and the SOS Méditerranée organization. From Saturday night into Sunday morning, the Aquarius took on 629 people in six separate operations, MSF and SOS said on Twitter.

He says Malta should accept the Aquarius, but it refused, arguing that it falls under Italy's jurisdiction.

Italy is the main entry for migrants crossing from North Africa to Europe.

German charity SOS Méditerranée says the ship has been instructed by the Italian Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre to stand by in its current position, 35 nautical miles (65km) from Italy and 27 nautical miles from Malta.

It says the migrants, many of whom are children, were picked up in six different rescue operations off Libya's coast.

Image credit: Reuters