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Italian church to host Sea Watch migrants

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Italian church to host Sea Watch migrants
People rescued by the Sea Watch disembark in Malta, from where they will be resettled in other EU countries. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli/AFP
12:14 CET+01:00
An Italian church has offered to take in a dozen migrants from the Sea Watch and Sea Eye rescue boats, after Italy's interior minister opposed an international deal to divide the group between European countries.

"Just over ten" people from the two NGO boats will arrive in Italy, sources told Rai News, where they will be hosted by the Chiesa Valdese Protestant church "at no cost to the state".

The arrangement follows late-night negotiations on Wednesday between Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, his deputy Luigi Di Maio – both of the Five Star Movement – and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, head of the anti-immigration League party, which is the junior partner in Italy's coalition government.

Hours earlier, Salvini had complained that he was not consulted about an international agreement that would see Italy and seven other EU countries take in the 49 people aboard the Sea Watch and Sea Eye, who spent 19 days at sea awaiting permission to land in a safe harbour after being rescued in the Mediterranean.

READ ALSO: Italy to take in some of Sea Watch migrants as part of international deal


Photo: Federico Scoppa/AFP

After the meeting with his coalition partners, which reportedly continued until 1 am, Salvini claimed victory. "I'm not changing my mind, in fact I'm taking two steps forward," he declared in a Thursday morning Facebook post. 

The Sea Watch migrants' arrival in Italy is dependent upon other European countries agreeing to resettle some 200 people rescued at sea and brought to Sicily since August, according to Salvini, who claimed that the government was united behind the "close the ports" policy he has made his rallying cry. 

"The interior minister is in charge of immigration," he declared.

Sources in the prime minister's office said only that Conte would seek a meeting with EU officials about resettling the 200 migrants in Sicily, without confirming that it was a condition of the Sea Watch group's arrival.

The issue has highlighted divisions in the coalition government, with Di Maio calling for women and children aboard the boats to be allowed to land in Italy while Salvini dug in his heels.

"From now on it's better to meet before rather than after," the interior minister said pointedly after Wednesday's discussions.

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