Italy allows children on coastguard ship caught in limbo to disembark

AFP/The Local
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Italy allows children on coastguard ship caught in limbo to disembark
File photo: Giovanni Isolino/AFP.

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, called on the Italian government on Wednesday to allow over 100 migrants on a coastguard vessel near the Sicilian port of Catania to disembark "for humanitarian and medical reasons". Nearly 30 minors disembarked on the night of Wednesday.


The Diciotti vessel rescued 177 people six days ago but Italy's hardline Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has insisted he will not allow them to land unless other European Union countries commit to taking some of them in.

Aid organizations Save The Children and Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) backed the UNHCR's call on Wednesday.

Late on Wednesday Salvini said he had given permission for 29 children on the vessel to disembark, though it was unclear if this was an official request. 

"There are 29 children onboard the Diciotti? They can disembark. Now, even if Brussels is sleeping," Salvini said in a Facebook comment.

Italian daily Repubblica reported that the 29 unaccompanied migrants under the age of 18 had been allowed to disembark on Wednesday night.

READ ALSO: Nearly 200 rescued migrants held aboard Italian coastguard ship docked in Sicily

The case has continued to stir controversy in Italy, with renowned anti-mafia writer Roberto Saviano – who has been a trenchant critic of Salvini – accusing the government of "taking 177 human beings hostage".

Saviano said on Tuesday that the case of the Diciotti "represents a very serious and illegal case of abduction of multiple persons by the state".

Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli, whose ministry controls the coastguard, said he hoped a solution could be found quickly. 

"We are waiting for Europe, above all those pro-Europeans such as [French President Emmanuel] Macron and [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel... to come forward," Toninelli told the Euronews channel on Tuesday evening, complaining that previous agreements to relocate migrants rescued by Italy earlier this summer had not yet been fulfilled.

READ ALSO: Berlin says Athens agrees to take back migrants and eyes deal with Italy

Salvini had previously threatened to send the migrants on the Diciotti back to Libya if no European solution is found.

The remaining migrants on the Diciotti were spending their seventh night on board the vessel on Wednesday, and their second off Catania.

"They are very well," insisted Toninelli, adding that they were being "given constant medical checks, they are fed and therefore they are in excellent conditions". However, journalists at the scene said conditions were difficult overnight due to rain and bad weather.

READ ALSO: The Sicilian success story tackling 'myths' about migration

Three prosecutors in Sicily said Wednesday they had opened investigations over the migrants on the vessel, including into possible people smuggling. 

Salvini tweeted that he doesn't fear being charged for his conduct. "It seems that for the ship Diciotti, docked in Catania, the public prosecutor's office is investigating "unknowns" for "illegal detention" and false imprisonment. There's no unknowns, INVESTIGATE ME [sic]! It is I who doesn't want other illegals to disembark in Italy," tweeted the interior minister. 

Italy's new government, formed by the anti-immigration League and the populist Five Star Movement after elections in March, has set a goal of zero migrant arrivals in Italian ports.

READ MORE: Sweden turns down migrants docked in Italy


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