Mon, Aug 27, 2018 - Page 5 News List

Standoff ends as migrants leave boat

PROBE LAUNCHED:Prosecutors opened an inquiry into interior minister over refusal to allow people off the boat, citing ‘illegal confinement, illegal arrest and abuse of power’

AFP, ROME

Migrants are identified and receive aid as they disembark from the Italian coast guard ship Diciotti in the port of Catania early yesterday morning.

Photo: AP / Orietta Scardino / ANSA

Nearly 140 migrants who had been stranded on a boat at a port in Sicily were allowed to disembark early yesterday after Ireland and Albania agreed to take some of them in.

The boat had docked at Catania port on Monday last week, but Italy had refused to let those on board disembark in absence of any EU commitment to relocate them, prompting a new bitter row between Rome and Brussels.

However, following a deal brokered by the Catholic Church late on Saturday, far-right Italian Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini agreed to allow them to leave the Diciotti, the Italian coast guard ship which had rescued them about 10 days ago.

There were initially around 180 on board the boat when it arrived at the port in Sicily, but Rome allowed 27 unaccompanied minors to disembark on Wednesday and a dozen women and men left the boat on Saturday following a request from health authorities.

Seventeen had been authorized to leave, 11 women and six men, but only 12 disembarked, after several women refused to leave the vessel it meant being separated from family members still on board, media reported.

The move to let the remaining migrants off the boat came several hours after Sicilian prosecutors said they had opened an inquiry into Salvini for “illegal confinement, illegal arrest and abuse of power” over his refusal to allow the migrants to disembark.

At the same time, Salivini suggested that an end to the drama could be in sight telling a political meeting “the migrants on board the Diciotti ship will disembark in the coming hours,” adding that they would be taken in by the Italian church “by bishops who are opening their doors, their hearts and their wallets.”

Italy’s populist government on Friday threatened to pull funding for the EU unless it agreed to take in some of those on board the Diciotti, prompting a sharp retort from Brussels which said it would not be cowed by threats.

Salivini late on Friday had also brushed aside reports of a broader inquiry into who was responsible, saying that officials were following orders issued by “the director — that is to say me.”

The Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Saturday praised Albania in a tweet “for its decision to welcome 20 refugees from the Diciotti, a sign of great solidarity.”

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office had earlier called on EU member states to “urgently” provide places for those stranded on the ship.

“In the meantime, UNHCR urges Italian authorities to allow the immediate disembarkation of those on board,” it said.

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