Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi this morning lambasted the Italian government for refusing to save a boat full of migrants who appeared close to the island of Lampedusa on Thursday.

The authorities on the Italian island did not send craft to the scene, 32 nautical miles away, and refused entry to a Maltese patrol boat after it rescued the migrants. They claimed that Lampedusa was not safe as it was 'full up.' By friday, Ansa reported that nearly all migrants had been transferred to Italy.

Dr Gonzi said that if Italy was safe, so was Lampedusa, and he would not accept arguments made by anyone to suggest that Lampedusa and Italy were not the same country.

Italy, he said, had the moral duty to rescue those migrants, particularly since this happened the day after more than 150 migrants drowned under the noses of two Italian patrol boats.

Speaking at Tarxien, Dr Gonzi also condemned “racist” commentary appearing on websites.

He said the government was well aware of the concerns of the country, particularly because of the island’s small size and dense population.

“We worry when we see these numbers of migrants coming. But we cannot forget that every one of these people, whatever their colour, are people like me and you and deserve all the help they can get.”

The racist comments appearing online did not reflect that values of the Maltese people, he said, and hopefully they never would.

“I am proud because our DNA does not tell us to choose between people who are fair and people who are dark, people with white skin and people with black skin. As a country, we welcome not only tourists but even those who come half-dead on a dinghy and who we save from the high seas.”

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