African refugees stranded on NATO ship: officials

15th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

Over 100 African refugees from Libya rescued in the Mediterranean by a Spanish NATO ship four days ago have been refused shelter by Italy and Malta and are stranded at sea, officials said on Friday.

The ship was taking part in the naval blockade on Libya when it came across a battered boat crammed with "around 105 immigrants from North Africa," said David Taylor, spokesman for NATO's Allied Maritime Command in Naples.

Italian news agency ANSA identified the boat as Spain's "Almirante Juan de Borbon" and said it had intercepted the fishing boat with 17 women -- four of them pregnant -- and eight children on board about 100 miles off Libya.

Italy has said its centres are already stretched by other refugees fleeing the conflict in Libya and does not have space for new arrivals, while Malta has said the Almirante is too far away and therefore not its responsibility, the report said.

Malta's Interior Minister Carmelo Mifsud Monnici called on NATO Thursday to resolve the issue after the Almirante brought its human cargo towards Valletta only to be refused permission to enter Maltese waters.

Monnici told journalists at a press conference that three of the refugees had been flown to a Maltese hospital by helicopter for medical care but added that the others did not fall under Valletta's jurisdiction.

He said the refugee boat had been intercepted 141 miles off Malta.

"The problem is certainly NATO's not ours, and it's up to them to resolve it," he said.

Taylor said: "Negotiations are going on at a political, administrative and military level to deal with the situation."

© 2011 AFP

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