Migration: Italian minister wants sanctions against Malta

Migrants are seen onboard the humanitarian ship Aquarius at Boiler Wharf in Senglea in Valletta's Grand Harbour Malta

Migrants are seen onboard the humanitarian ship Aquarius at Boiler Wharf in Senglea in Valletta's Grand Harbour Malta

"Or we will be forced to do what will definitely break up the smugglers' business - that is to take the rescued people back to Libya".

Malta did not aid a boat carrying 190 migrants crossing worldwide waters - the Italian coastguard vessel Diciotti picked it up after the boat neared the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Interior minister Matteo Salvini said on Sunday that other European countries need to take in the migrants or he will return them to Libya.

On Wednesday, Malta did not aid a boat carrying 190 migrants which was crossing worldwide waters, saying it was not in distress.

Since taking office in June, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has spearheaded a campaign to stop humanitarian rescue ships operating out of Italy's ports.

Salvini's Maltese counterpart, Michael Farrugia, tweeted on Sunday, accusing Italy of rescuing the migrants in Maltese waters "purely to prevent them from entering Italian waters".

Over the past week Malta has rescued two boats in distress in its waters, one on Monday carrying 114 people and one on Saturday with about 60 migrants.

Returning migrants to an "unsafe" Libya could pose legal troubles for Rome.

Italian Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli accused Malta of shirking its responsibility by not rescuing stricken vessels making the risky journey from North Africa.

Mr Toninelli wrote on Facebook: "Malta's behaviour is once again unqualified and deserving of sanctions".

Numerous human rights abuses have been reported in detention centres that hold migrants hoping to make the perilous crossing of the Mediterranean and arrive in Europe.

"The EU should step forward and open its ports in solidarity, otherwise it has no reason to exist".

Earlier this week, five European Union countries agreed to take in 141 migrants on board the private rescue ship, the MV Aquarius, which was left stranded halfway between Malta and Italy as both countries blocked its arrival.

The Italian authorities had directed the ship to rescue hundreds of migrants from several packed boats but then refused to allow Aquarius to dock.

But with the Diciotti blocked outside the port of Lampedusa, Toninelli this morning upped the ante on Malta, insisting that Diciotti's actions showed that Italy never reneged on its duty to save lives at sea.

Spain stepped in to offer safe harbour in Valencia, while France agreed to welcome migrants who "meet the criteria for asylum".