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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 February 2019

Dutch reject Italian call to take 47 rescued migrants

Sea Watch 3, run by a German NGO, rescued sub-Saharan African migrants off Libya more than a week ago

Protesters gather during a demonstration in support of German humanitarian group Sea Watch in Rome. EPA
Protesters gather during a demonstration in support of German humanitarian group Sea Watch in Rome. EPA

The Netherlands on Monday refused a request by Italy to take in 47 migrants stuck on board a Dutch-flagged rescue ship that Italian ports have refused to allow to dock.

The Sea Watch 3 ship, run by a German NGO, rescued the mainly sub-Saharan African migrants off Libya more than a week ago and is sheltering from bad weather off Sicily.

The Mediterranean nations of Italy and Malta have both refused to let the vessel dock.

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“Without a firm idea of an overall solution, the Netherlands will not take part in ad-hoc measures for disembarkation” of the ship, Lennart Wegewijs, a spokesman for the Dutch Justice and Security Ministry, told AFP.

Italy’s far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini has insisted Germany or the Netherlands take responsibility for the migrants, warning that he was considering legal action against the crew.

German and Dutch authorities insist the problem should be solved within the wider context of an elusive EU migration deal that distinguishes between people in need of asylum, and economic migrants.

The Dutch government said Sea Watch 3 was not its responsibility because the boat had acted “on its own initiative... It was up to the captain to find a nearby port to disembark the 47 migrants he had on board”.

EU rules task the country where migrants land with responsibility for dealing with asylum claims. In early January, the EU reached a deal to share migrants on board two ships, one of which was Sea Watch 3, between eight European countries.

Migrants rescued by ships have frequently been left in limbo since Italy’s anti-immigration government began turning them away last summer.

“How is it possible that 47 people can pose such a threat to the entire European Union?” Red Cross president Francesco Rocca asked in a statement.

“Saving lives must be the priority of all governments.”

Italy’s official but independent authority for the protection of detainee rights decried the migrant’s “illegal detention” since they were not allowed to disembark in Italy.

The group said in a statement that Italy’s action amounted to “depriving the rescued migrants of their freedom”.

Some 113,482 migrants crossed the Mediterranean to reach Europe last year, according to the UN refugee agency, which said 2,262 people lost their lives or went missing making the perilous journey.

Europe has been wrestling with the issue since the migration crisis of 2015 when more than one million people arrived on its shores, many of them fleeing conflict in the Middle East.

Updated: January 29, 2019 02:46 PM

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