US actor Richard Gere and Italy's Matteo Salvini clash over migrant ship

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By Marina Jenkins  & Evelyn Laverick, Sandrine Amiel, Cristina Abellan-Matamoros
US actor Richard Gere and Italy's Matteo Salvini clash over migrant ship
Copyright  REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane

Hollywood star Richard Gere said the Italian government should stop "demonising people" and help migrants who have been stranded aboard Spanish rescue boat Open Arms for ten days.

Gere delivered groceries to the ship on Friday in a show of solidarity. He joined a news conference on Italy's Lampedusa island and called for the migrants on the boat to be allowed to disembark.

He compared Italy's politics, where League leader and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has repeatedly refused to let rescue ships carrying migrants to dock, to US politics under Donald Trump.

"We have our problems with refugees coming from Honduras, Salvador, Nicaragua, Mexico... It's very similar to what you are going through here," he said, adding that politicians in both countries demonise migrants.

"This has to stop everywhere on this planet now. And it will stop if we say stop," he added.

Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini was quick to hit back saying Gere should take the 160 migrants backs to Hollywood.

"Given this generous millionaire is voicing concern for the fate of the Open Arms migrants, we thank him: he can take back to Hollywood, on his private plane, all the people aboard and support them in his villas. Thank you Richard!" he said in a statement.

The European Union was under growing pressure on Friday to find a solution for the 121 migrants stranded in the Mediterranean Sea.

Open Arms said in a tweet that they had rescued an additional 39 people early on Saturday morning.

It said Malta had refused to take the 121 migrants who have been aboard the ship for the past nine days, which include 32 minors.

It added that Malta was only willing to take the 39 people rescued on Saturday but the NGO refused the offer.

The Maltese government said in a statement to Euronews that the NGO is not letting them take the 39 people that were rescued in an area of Malta's responsibility, insisting they also take the 121 people rescued in an area outside of the country's responsibility.

"Malta can only shoulder its own responsibility since other solutions are not forthcoming," the statement read.

The boat is currently near the Italian island of Lampedusa and has been denied entry by both Italy and Malta, even as Open Arms warned it would soon run out of food.

"What a shame Europe, not to be able to find a port for these people in 8 days, "Open Arms tweeted on Friday.

Open Arms said Thursday that it sent letters to the governments of Spain, France and Germany asking for them to request the European Commission to find a solution to their predicament.

On Thursday, European Parliament President David Sassoli addressed a letter to the European Commission urging the bloc's executive to coordinate 'prompt humanitarian intervention' and arrange 'for the fair distribution of the migrants'.

Reacting to the letter, an EU Commission spokesperson said: "The Commission has no competence when it comes to coordination of search and rescue operations or indication of places for disembarkation. Despite this, at each occasion, the Commission has done its utmost within our remit to help find a solution and we will continue to do so."

"When it comes to the Open Arms vessel, the Commission has not initiated coordination as there has been no request by a Member State," they added.

"We have, however – and independently from the letter of the President of the European Parliament – reached out to Member States asking them to show solidarity and to contribute to finding a solution for the persons on board."

The EU Commission added that a reply to the letter would follow "in the coming days".

The founder of Opens Arms, a Spanish NGO, Oscar Camps called on EU member states to take in the 121 people on his ship.

Among those on the vessel are two babies and a further 30 minors.

Camps said he was concerned for their welfare, adding they need “medical and psychiatric assistance."

"We will continue until the European Union changes its migration policy,” he said of the NGO's goal.

This mission's leader is Anabel Montes who is on the ship and unsure about what will come next for those on board.

"Little by little we are running out of food and drink for the rescued people and for us as a crew and also we are worried about the psychological state of the people we have rescued as it is worsening day by day because of the uncertainty of not knowing what will happen to them.

"Therefore, we urgently need a boarding port as quickly as possible for the safety of everyone on board."

The ongoing migrant crisis in Europe has seen several rescue ships full of migrants arrive on the continent's shores.

There have been ship-by-ship solutions for migrants rescued off the coast of Libya, but only if other EU countries agree to take them in.

Journalist • Marina Jenkins