Italian PM pleads to EU to take some of migrants on coastguard vessel

Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte has appealed to EU partner countries to admit some of the migrants who have been held on coastguard ship Diciotti in Sicilian port Catania for two days, and not allowed to disembark.

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has been resisting pressure from the Transport Ministry to let the 177 migrants off the ship; the issue is causing tension between the League and its senior coalition partner, 5-Star Movement.

Salvini has said he will not let the migrants come ashore until other European countries agree to take them in. They were rescued from an overcrowded boat in the Mediterranean a week ago.

PM Conte appeared to back Salvini when he said on Facebook that Italy was “waiting for a strong and clear answer from the European institutions and an adequate response from the other European countries”.

Salvini said subsequently on Facebook that the 29 minors aboard the ship could disembark, but not the others. He accused other European countries of a “cowardly silence” and claimed that Brussels was “sleeping”. “If Europe doesn’t play its part, as far as I’m concerned the boats can go back to where they came from”.

An Italian coastguard official had told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that the situation was “embarrassing”, to which Salvini responded on Twitter that, with more than 650,000 arrivals by sea since 2014, “I’m the embarrassing one?”

Salvini’s position was different from that of Roberto Fico, the 5-Star speaker of the lower house, who said on Twitter that the migrants “must be able to disembark. They cannot be held on board any longer”. To this, Salvini responded: “you do your job as speaker of the Chamber and I’ll do my job as minister.”

Conte has said countries that had previously offered to take in migrants allowed to dock in Italy in July had not kept their word. France had taken some, but Germany, Portugal, Spain, Ireland and Malta had not, he said.

Malta said this week that “the Italian authorities have not provided any tangible procedure for Malta to follow”, adding that  Italy had failed to meet its quota from a humanitarian vessel that docked in Malta in June.