ITALY has dispatched two ships to help take 629 migrants stuck off its shores to Spain after the new populist government refused them safe port in a bid to force Europe to share the burden of unrelenting arrivals.

The rescue ship Aquarius has been stuck since Saturday in international waters off the coast of Italy and Malta, both of which have refused it entry. The ship is carrying 629 migrants including 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 children and six pregnant women.

Aid group Doctors Without Borders, which operates the Aquarius with SOS Mediterranee, urged Italy and Malta to reconsider their refusal to allow the stranded migrants landfall and then safe passage by other means to Spain, which has responded to the plight with an offer of safe harbour.

The aid group warned of severe health risks to a significant number of the passengers.

Italy’s new anti-migrant interior minister Matteo Salvini is making good on a campaign pledge to close Italian ports to non-governmental organisations that pick up migrants at sea.