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UNHCR urges Italy to allow migrants trapped at sea to disembark

Matteo Salvini attends swearing in ceremony of new far-right government [Getty]

Date of publication: 23 August, 2018

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The rescue vessel Diciotti has been stranded in the Mediterranean for six days, as Europe shies away from welcoming migrants.

The UN refugee agency called Wednesday on Italy to allow a migrant rescue ship carrying 177 passengars to disembark near the Sicilian port of Catania. 

The Diciotti vessel rescued the migrants six days ago but Italy's far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has insisted he will not allow them to land unless other EU countries commit to taking some of them in.

Aid organisations Save The Children and Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) backed the UNHCR's call on Wednesday.

The case has continued to stir controversy in Italy with renowned anti-mafia writer Roberto Saviano - who has been a trenchant critic of Salvini - accusing the government of "taking 177 human beings hostage".

Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli, whose ministry controls the coastguard, said he hoped a solution could be found quickly. 

"We are waiting for Europe, above all those pro-Europeans such as (French President Emmanuel) Macron and (German Chancellor Angela) Merkel... to come forward," Toninelli told the Euronews channel on Tuesday evening.

Late Wednesday Salvini said he had given permission for 29 children on the vessel to disembark. 

"There are 29 children onboard the Diciotti? They can disembark. Now, Even if Brussels is sleeping," Salvini said in a Facebook comment. MSF later tweeted on Wednesday they were able to provide medical care to the children, and called on Italy to allow the remainder to disembark. 

Salvini had previously threatened to send the migrants on the Diciotti back to Libya if no European solution is found.

The 177 migrants were spending their seventh night on board the vessel on Wednesday, and their second off Catania.

Italy's new government, formed by the League and the populist Five Star Movement after elections in March, has set a goal of zero migrant arrivals in Italian ports.

The increasingly hostile stance reflects hardening public opinion towards migrants in Italy and elsewhere in Europe following the arrival of hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war or poverty in Africa and the Middle East.

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