The announcement came on Wednesday afternoon from Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who for more than two weeks has been refusing to allow the 49 people rescued by the two NGO boats to disembark unless other EU countries agreed to resettle them.
But Italy's coalition government remains starkly divided over the issue.
Celebrations aboard the Sea Watch on Wednesday. Photo: Federico Scoppa/AFP
While Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has been involved in efforts to broker an agreement and Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio had called for Italy to take in all women and children on board, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini – who is also a deputy prime minister – repeated his assertion that no migrants would be allowed to land, accusing the EU of “giving in to the blackmail of people smugglers and NGOs” and saying he had not been consulted about the deal.
“Whether it's eight or 88, I'm not authorizing anyone to enter Italy,” Salvini told reporters in Poland, during a visit to his allies in the right-wing populist government there.
“You consult before a decision like this… The government won't fall, but I will be asking for immediate clarification in the coming hours, as soon as I get back to Italy,” he said.
The cabinet is due to meet on Wednesday evening, sources told Rai News.
In the meantime, those aboard the Sea Watch and Sea Eye – who include a baby and several children – were celebrating the end of 19 days at sea.
— Sea-Watch (@seawatchcrew) January 9, 2019
As well as Italy, Germany, France, Portugal, Ireland, Romania, Luxembourg and the Netherlands have agreed to take in some of the group, Muscat said.
The deal also involves the resettlement of more than 100 other migrants already in Malta, he announced.
The people aboard the Sea Watch and Sea Eye, which are both operated by German NGOs, will land in Malta later on Wednesday before being transferred to their host countries. Those coming to Italy are expected to arrive by plane.
A child is transferred to a coastguard vessel to be taken to Malta. Photo: Federico Scoppa/AFP
The exact number of migrants that Italy has agreed to host has not been announced, but Conte had previously indicated that Rome was willing to welcome around 15.
Priority will be given to vulnerable people including women and children, according to EU Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos, who welcomed Italy's cooperation but said that a system was needed to avoid such emergency solutions in future.
Thanking civil society for its support, Sea Watch commented: “Disembarkation cannot be subject to negotiations between states at the expense of people. We need a structural solution.”
L'UE ha raggiunto un accordo dopo 19 gg. I nostri ospiti potranno raggiungere terra. Lo sbarco non può essere subordinato ai negoziati tra Stati a spese delle persone. Necessaria una soluzione strutturale.
Grazie alla società civile che è stata con noi in questi gg. #United4Med
— Sea-Watch Italy (@SeaWatchItaly) January 9, 2019