Italy forces 130 migrants to remain on vessel amid tensions with EU

Published 29.07.2019 00:11

An Italian coast guard vessel stranded in the Mediterranean with more than 130 migrants aboard has been allowed to dock in the eastern Sicilian port of Augusta but Rome Sunday refused to let them disembark until a deal is struck with the EU.

"The Gregoretti berthed in the port of Augusta overnight, as is normal procedure for a military vessel. Now the EU has to act because the migration question concerns the whole continent," Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli said in a statement.

Some 140 migrants, who had set off from Libya in two rickety boats, were picked up by Italian patrols on Thursday night and transferred to the Gregoretti ship. The operation took place on the same day that at least 115 other migrants were believed to have drowned in a shipwreck off Libya, the Mediterranean's deadliest tragedy this year, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Several migrants aboard the Gregoretti have already been evacuated for medical attention, including a seven-month pregnant woman, her two children and her partner. However, Italy's far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has reiterated that the remaining migrants would not be able to leave the vessel until other European countries agree to take them in. Last year, a group of 177 migrants was in a similar situation after Salvini refused to allow them to disembark for nearly a week, creating a stand-off with the EU.

Since June 2018, when Italy's populist government took office and started turning away nongovernmental organization (NGO) rescue ships, migrants saved at sea have repeatedly been trapped in intra-EU disputes about where they should be allowed to land. Salvini, also deputy prime minister, has taken a hard line against migrants rescued at sea being brought

to Italy, which he says bears an unfair burden in the crisis. Italy, along with Malta, Greece and Spain, has handled the lion's share of migrants arriving in the EU via the Mediterranean in recent years, a state of affairs that these countries deem unacceptable.

EU member states have long grappled with a common response to migration inflows from northern Africa via the Mediterranean. French President Emmanuel Macron announced last Monday that 14 EU members had approved a plan to redistribute refugees rescued in the Mediterranean, and eight said they would actively take part. The proposal drew Salvini's ire because it still involved allowing migrants to disembark on his country's territory. He said the agreement underscored a demand that Italy "continue to be the refugee camp of Europe."

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