The Italian government is piling the pressure on the EU to help with the migrant crisis

Italy’s far-right interior minister has threatened to deport 177 migrants back to Libya if Brussels refuses to redistribute them across Europe in a move that would violate international law.

The refugees have been stuck on an Italian coastguard ship off the island of Lampedusa for five days after being rescued in Maltese waters on Thursday.

Matteo Salvini said in a statement: “Either Europe decides seriously to offer Italy some concrete help, beginning with, for example, the 180 immigrants on board the Diciotti ship, or we will be forced to do what will definitively stop the smugglers’ business: that means taking the people saved in the sea back to Libya.”

Italy and Malta have been arguing about who is responsible for the migrants. Malta claims that they were only rescued by the Italians to prevent them from continuing their journey towards Italy. Danilo Toninelli, the Italian transport minister, has demanded that Brussels impose sanctions against Malta for its “unspeakable” behaviour.

“We have reached the point where a minister of the republic announces through the press the decision to commit a crime,” said Nicola Fratoianni, an Italian left-wing opposition MP.