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Eritrea for mobile viewing Rescued migrants 'hijack merchant vessel' in Mediterranean to avoid return to Libya, Italy says

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Date: Wednesday, 27 March 2019

A file photo showing migrants in a boat that was intercepted by the Libyan coast guard, June 2018 The Libyan coast guard, trained by the EU, intercepts migrant boats and sends them back to Libya Credit: AP

Migrants have hijacked a merchant ship that rescued them in the Mediterranean, the Italian government has said.

Matteo Salvini, the country’s hardline interior minister, has condemned the migrants as “pirates”.

According to the Italian interior minister, a merchant ship named as the Elhiblu rescued the migrants from a sinking boat north of Libya and intended to take them back there.

The vessel was six nautical miles from the port of Tripoli when the migrants reportedly forced the crew to turn around and start sailing north.

The vessel is now believed to be heading towards either Malta or the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa, south of Sicily.

“They are not shipwrecked migrants but pirates,” Mr Salvini said.

He said they would not be allowed to land on Italian soil.

"They should know that they will only see Italy with a telescope", said the minister, who is head of the anti-immigration League party.

Asylum seekers are terrified of being sent back to Libya because of the inhuman treatment they are subjected to in detention centres, some of them run by trafficking gangs.

Since coming to power last summer, Italy’s coalition government has closed the country’s ports to rescued migrants, with Mr Salvini the most vocal exponent of the policy.

The Libyan coast guard, trained by the EU, intercepts migrant boats and sends them back to Libya, in a push-back policy that has been condemned by the UN and humanitarian organisations.

Refugees and migrants say they are beaten, raped and even sold as slaves in Libyan camps.

They are tortured by smuggling gangs in order to extort more money from their families back home.

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