Italy is engaged in another standoff with the European Union over migrants in the Mediterranean, refusing to allow 115 Africans to disembark in Sicily. Euronews reports in its article EU seeks volunteer countries to take in migrants stranded at Italian port that they are on board the Bruno Gregoretti, an Italian coastguard vessel that took them last Thursday after they had been saved off Malta. The European Commission says efforts are underway to find other EU countries who can take them in.
The migrants had been in two groups in rubber dinghies that had got into trouble after leaving Libya, when they were rescued by fishing boats. The rescue came on the same day that more than 100 migrants are thought to have perished off the Libyan coast.
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The coastguard ship was given permission to dock in Augusta at the weekend, and the Italian interior ministry says 16 unaccompanied teenagers aged 15-17 have since been allowed off. Earlier a pregnant woman and her family were allowed to disembark in Catania after six migrants were reportedly taken to the island of Lampedusa for medical treatment.
But otherwise the government is continuing to take a hard line. Last week Matteo Salvini, interior minister and head of the far-right League Party, said the migrants would not be allowed to disembark “until Europe commits to accept all the immigrants on board”.
The message was echoed on Sunday by Italian Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli. He said the EU had to give a clear response “because the migration issue concerns the whole continent”.
The media were refused access to the port of Augusta in eastern Sicily at the weekend. The migrants had been filmed in Catania on the deck of the coastguard vessel, trying to protect themselves from the sun.
It is understood that the crew of the Gregoretti – as a coastguard vessel, part of the Italian Navy – are also stuck on board the ship.
The European Commission says it has contacted member states to seek to distribute them elsewhere in the EU. A spokesman said on Monday the Commission would help countries willing to step in, and “contacts are ongoing”.
The onus was on individual states to come forward, the spokesman added, promising an update “once the process is completed”.
A German government spokesman said Germany had informed the European Commission on Friday that it was “available to take in migrants”.
Italy is one of several European countries forced to deal with an influx of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea, many escaping from poverty or conflict at home.
Rome has refused on several occasions to allow rescue ships to dock unless there are clear plans to allocate the migrants across EU countries. NGOs have been targetted by the Italian authorities after rescuing people at sea and trying to take them to European ports.
Last week, the latest attempt to forge a common European response to migration in the Mediterranean saw Germany and France draw up plans for a “solidarity mechanism”.
Interior and foreign ministers from EU countries, along with officials from the Commission and the UN refugee agency, met in Paris. French President Emmanuel Macron said 14 states had approved a French-German plan to distribute refugees rescued in the Mediterranean, and eight had signalled they would actively take part.
But few details have emerged of what the plan entails. Last week the UN refugee agency called on the EU to reinstate a search and rescue operation, similar to a previous programme now halted, to prevent loss of life in the Mediterranean Sea.
Italy did not take part in the Paris meeting. Matteo Salvini justified his decision to stay away, reportedly saying that Italy “does not take orders and is not a partner: if Macron wants to discuss migrants, come to Rome”.