Italy is refusing to let a humanitarian ship carrying more than 600 refugees and migrants to dock at its ports, but has instead asked Malta take them in.
Malta brushed off the request, saying it had nothing to do with the rescue operation, opening the prospect of a diplomatic rift between the two European Union allies.
The move by Italy’s new interior minister, Matteo Salvini, who is also head of the anti-immigrant League, represents an opening gambit to make good on his electoral promises to halt the flow of migrants into the country.
“Malta takes in nobody. France pushes people back at the border, Spain defends its frontier with weapons,” Mr Salvini wrote on Facebook. “From today, Italy will also start to say no to human trafficking, no to the business of illegal immigration.”