Rescued Sea Watch migrants to land in Italy after deal reached: PM

ROME (AFP) – Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said yesterday that 47 rescued migrants aboard the Sea Watch NGO vessel could finally disembark after Italy and six other countries agreed to take them in.

“Luxembourg has joined the list of friendly countries that responded to our invitation (to take the migrants), now we are seven countries,” Conte told journalists. “Disembarking will begin in the coming hours.”

The other countries that have agreed to take in the migrants and asylum seekers, who have been stuck on the Sea Watch 3 vessel for nearly two weeks, are France, Germany, Malta, Portugal and Romania.

Their fate has been at the centre of a standoff between Italy’s far-right anti-migrant Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini and the German NGO Sea Watch.

The aid group on Friday filed an urgent case at the European Human Rights Court against Italy for refusing to allow its ship to dock.

Sea Watch took the step because of Rome’s hardline attitude against the mainly sub-Saharan migrants that its ship pulled out of the Mediterranean on January 19.

Sea Watch 3 is sailing under a Dutch flag and has been sheltering from bad weather off Sicily.

It picked up the migrants and asylum-seekers – including eight minors – off the coast of Libya as they made the treacherous crossing.

The Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Tuesday urged the Italian government to “take all necessary measures, as quickly as possible”, to provide migrants on board the Sea Watch 3 with medical care, water and food.

Migrants rescued at sea have frequently been left in limbo since Italy’s anti-immigration government began turning them away last summer.

Sea Watch spokesman Ruben Neugebauer told AFP, “We are happy that this European hostage-taking is ending.

“At the same time, it’s a bad day for Europe because human rights have once more been made secondary to negotiations within the EU… Another bitter day,” he said.

Europe has been wrestling with divisions over how to handle the problem since the migration crisis of 2015 when more than one million people arrived on its shores, many of them fleeing conflict in the Middle East.

Salvini, who has warned that he was considering legal action against Sea Watch crew, said on Tuesday that the 47 migrants can disembark if they agree to leave for Germany or the Netherlands.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday called for the need for “humane solutions” for migrant rescue operations and urged that migrants be allowed to disembark at the nearest port, in this case “in Italy”.