Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 14 October 2019

Matteo Salvini bargains with the EU over the fate of 132 refugees stuck offshore

The far-right Italian politician wants EU nations to share the burden of resettling new arrivals

The Italian coast guard ship Gregoretti had 116 migrants on it, who will now disembark to go Germany, Portugal, France, Luxembourg and Ireland. Reuters
The Italian coast guard ship Gregoretti had 116 migrants on it, who will now disembark to go Germany, Portugal, France, Luxembourg and Ireland. Reuters

Sixteen minors have been allowed to leave an Italian coastguard boat that has becoming a floating detention centre for more than 100 refugees rescued from the ocean after the country’s interior minister refused to allow its inhabitants to disembark.

Having warned that Italy was bearing the brunt of the migration crisis, Matteo Salvini barred the embarkation of the 132 refugees saved from the sea near Malta until other European countries agree to take them in.

The migrants were rescued by Tunisian and Italian fishermen from two small boats before being taken onto the Italian coastguard Gregoretti supply boat. The Gregoretti first docked at Catania where a heavily pregnant woman and her family were allowed to disembark, then travelled to the port of Augusta. Those remaining on board face a fourth day of uncertainty on Tuesday as wrangling between Italy and its neighbours shows no sign of resolution.

“I will not give any permission for them to disembark until Europe commits to accept all the immigrants on board,” Mr Salvini, who is head of the far-right League party, said.

The minors who have been allowed the leave the boat are between 15 and 17 and are unaccompanied. When and where those who remain on the boat will be able to leave is still unknown.

As Italy shut its ports to migrants, Malta on Friday agreed to take in some 143 people its armed forces had rescued in two separate operations.

UNHCR data puts the total number of confirmed sea arrivals to Italy, Greece, Spain, Cyprus and Malta at just under 35,000 people, with 820 thought to have died making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean.

Last week, the UN called for the EU to take decisive action to prevent loss of life.

“An EU State search and rescue operation, similar to programmes we have seen in recent years, is needed,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi and International Organisation for Migration Director General António Vitorino said in a joint statement.

“The crucial role played by NGOs must be acknowledged. They should not be criminalised nor stigmatised for saving lives at sea. Commercial vessels, who are increasingly being relied upon to conduct rescue operations, must not be requested to transfer rescued people to the Libyan Coast Guard, nor directed to disembark them in Libya, which is not a port of safety.”

The European Commission ''has started contact to support and coordinate all those member states who intend to take part in efforts of solidarity concerning the migrants on board'' the Gregoretti, a spokesman for the organisation said on Monday, but declined to say which states had volunteered to take people in.

Mr Salvini’s latest move against migrants is another step in an escalating crisis of migration in the EU, which has seen the captain of an NGO ship arrested for her role in rescuing migrants and helping them to disembark at Lampedusa.

A judge ruled on Friday that Sea Watch captain Carola Rackete, 31, had been carrying out her duty and had not behaved violently. However, she still faces potential charges of assisting illegal immigration.

Updated: July 29, 2019 08:13 PM

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