Food sent to migrants off Sicily as Italy awaits EU offers
ROME (AP) — Another day’s worth of food and beverages was sent Sunday to a pair of military ships off Sicily as Italy waited for more European nations to pledge to take a share of the hundreds of migrants on board before allowing the asylum-seekers to step off onto Italian soil.
Germany, Spain and Portugal each agreed to accept 50 of the migrants, following similar offers by fellow European Union members France and Malta Saturday, Italian Premier Giueseppe Conte said.
But the Czech Republic rebuffed the appeal, calling the distribution plan a “road to hell.”
Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has vowed to prohibit further disembarking in Italy of migrants who were rescued while crossing the Mediterranean Sea unless the burden is shared by other EU countries.
Salvini, who leads the right-wing League party in Italy’s populist coalition government, told reporters Sunday the “aim was for brotherly re-distribution” of the 450 rescued passengers on the two military ships.
Conte contacted fellow EU nation leaders Saturday, asking them to take some of the rescued migrants. But Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis tweeted that his country “won’t take any migrants,” dismissing Italy’s approach as a “road to hell” that would encourage more migrant smuggling.
While campaigning for Italy’s March election, Salvini praised the hard-line stance on immigration taken by several eastern European countries, among them the Czech Republic. The same intransigence is being experienced by the Italian government.
Italy’s Conte insisted the “solidarity” strategy was working, citing the offers from France, Malta and Germany.
“This is the solidarity and responsibility that we have always sought from Europe,” the premier said on Facebook. He added that Italy would “continue on this path, with firmness and in respect of human rights.”
More than 600,000 migrants were rescued in the central Mediterranean and brought to Italian territory in the last few years. Many were economic migrants ineligible for asylum. Since their home countries often don’t facilitate repatriation, Italy has been left to shelter many of them, although thousands have slipped out of Italy to seek work or relatives in northern Europe.
Finding takers for all of the asylum-seekers on the military ships waiting off Sicily, in the grips of a heat wave, could be a long process.
Baby food, milk and juice were among the provisions being delivered Sunday so the people aboard will have necessities for another 24 hours.
A fishing boat, launched Friday from Libya by human traffickers and crowded with some 450 migrants, sailed to tiny Linosa island off Sicily, passing through both Libya’s and Malta’s search-and-rescue areas.
Off sparsely populated Linosa, a vessel for European border agency Frontex and an Italian border police boat took aboard the migrants and brought them to waters outside the Sicilian port of Pozzallo.
By Sunday evening, roughly 70 passengers either had been taken or were about to be taken off the ships and brought ashore in Pozzallo, Italian media said. They included people suffering from dehydration, pregnant women and some babies, including a newborn a few days old. Some of them needed to be hospitalized.
Among the evacuated was a woman weighing 35 kilos (77 pounds) after months in Libya.
Many of the rescued passengers originally are from Eritrea. The Eritrean husband of a pregnant woman who was experiencing abdominal pain was one of the few men allowed off, Italian state TV said.
In offering to take in 50 migrants, the German government cited the context of “ongoing talks about greater bilateral cooperation on asylum.”
According to EU figures, Germany received almost 1 million asylum applications in 2016 and 2017, the most of any bloc members. Italy came in second with about 250,000.
The number of migrants arriving in Italy so far this year is down about 80 percent compared to 2017. Salvini has vowed to stop all arrivals except for war refugees and people in a few other select categories, such as pregnant women or young children.