More than 100 migrants stranded off the Italian coast cannot find a home, as Italy refuses to let them ashore until EU states offer them sanctuary.
Italy’s Interior Minister and far-right Lega (the League) party leader Matteo Salvini is demanding that European Union bureaucrats continue their search for states that will volunteer to take in migrants stranded off the shores of the Italian coast.
Most states have so far been reluctant to accept migrants from the Gregoretti, the Italian coastguard ship stranded near the town of Augusta, in Sicily.
Of the original 141 migrants, 26 have now been allowed to leave the ship. They include six suffering from medical emergencies, a pregnant woman with her husband, and 18 minors.
But Italy's interior minister, as in previous cases of this kind, does not want to let the remaining 115 migrants ashore until other EU states have agreed to accept them.
The role of Brussels civil servants is currently limited to coordination: they cannot require any country to accept migrants at all, nor can they determine their number.
In any case, they only make contact with those countries where they hope to have at least a chance of a positive response. But the willingness to accept further migrants is low among EU states.
At the end of last week, Germany was the first and apparently only EU country to make a commitment to the EU to accept some of the migrants.
EU appeals for a ‘workable solutions’
According to EU Migration Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, more than 800 migrants have been distributed through such voluntary agreements since the summer of last year.
But two weeks ago in Helsinki Aramopoulos also said: “It has become increasingly clear that we cannot continue like this.
“It cannot be acceptable to leave the migrants to their fate, while a handful of EU states are trying to distribute them. There must be ‘practicable solutions’.”
But Italy’s Salvini has shown no sign of compromising. He boycotted an informal meeting of EU foreign and interior ministers in Paris at the beginning of last week.
The incident is not without precedence, last January a coast guard ship named Diciotti had to wait for days in the port of Catania before 177 migrants were allowed to go ashore.
A court in the Sicilian town Catania then brought charges against Salvini for deprivation of liberty and applied in vain to the Senate in Rome for his immunity to be waived.
A month earlier, Salvini refused the Diciotti entry to the port of Trapani with 67 migrants on board.
At that time, President Sergio Mattarella intervened personally with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte in order to secure the migrants’ arrival onshore.
Catalan president ready to accept migrants
Both the Catalan Regional President Quim Torra and the Mayor of Valencia, Joan Ribo, have offered their ports for mooring. They called on the Spanish government to issue a permit if the ship could not find a closer or more suitable port. However, the Socialist government of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez had recently threatened Spanish sea rescue workers with heavy fines.