Italy: Several EU nations agree to take migrants from ship

An Italian Coast Guard boat patrols next to the Sea-Watch 3 vessel, in the Mediterranean Sea just off the coasts of the southern Italian island of Lampedusa, Thursday, June 27, 2019. Carola Rackete, the captain of the humanitarian rescue ship said that Italian law enforcement officials have told them that a resolution is near for 42 migrants rescued at sea that Italy’s populist government has so far refused to allow to disembark. (ANSA/Matteo Guidelli via AP)

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ROME (AP) — Italy’s appeal to fellow EU nations to take some of the 40 migrants still aboard a rescue ship anchored off a tiny Mediterranean island in a weeks-long standoff has obtained a “positive” response from five countries, the Italian foreign minister said Friday.

In a tweet, Enzo Moavero offered his “sincere thanks to the governments of Finland, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Portugal” for giving a “positive response” about the migrants aboard Sea-Watch 3, a German humanitarian organization’s vessel which had rescued them more than two weeks ago.

Moavero also expressed gratitude to the EU migration commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos, for his efforts in lining up countries willing to take in the asylum-seekers.

Italy didn’t immediately say if the migrants would now be allowed to disembark on Lampedusa, an Italian island south of Sicily.

Earlier, a German interior ministry spokesman said Germany would take in some of the migrants if other EU member states did too. Later, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer was quoted by German news agency dpa that he was very confident that there would be a solution to the Sea-Watch 3 stalemate by the weekend.

Italy’s hard-line interior minister, Matteo Salvini, had declared that until countries are found to accept every one of the 40 asylum-seekers, none would disembark on Italian soil.

The vessel is Dutch-flagged, and Salvini for days pressed the Netherlands to deal with the private rescue vessel.

Originally, 53 rescued migrants were aboard. But that number decreased as various passengers were taken ashore because of medical conditions, including one on Thursday evening and another early Friday.

Sea-Watch 3 captain Carola Rackete has defied orders from port authorities, first not to enter Italian waters and second in her attempted approach to the port of Lampedusa, Italy’s southernmost island.

This is the latest standoff of several over the past months between Italy’s year-old populist government and humanitarian rescue ships that Salvini accuses of essentially aiding migrant traffickers.

The EU had urged Italy to bring the migrants to land.

In a news conference via Skype on Friday from the rescue vessel, Rackete said that Sea-Watch 3 headed to Italy since it had “the closest port from the rescue position” and because Malta “denied straight away” permission to dock.

Humanitarian groups, as well as U.N. agencies dealing with migrants and asylum-seekers say those rescued at sea shouldn’t be returned to Libya, where migrant traffickers are based, because the migrants risk torture, rape, forced labor and are kept in squalid, overcrowded detention centers with scant food.

In the past couple of years, Italy has supplied equipment and training to the Libya coast guard in hopes the Libyans would thwart launches of traffickers’ unseaworthy, overcrowded vessels.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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