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Italy says it got ‘positive response’ after asking other EU nations to accept migrants from ship

An Italian Coast Guard boat patrols next to the Sea-Watch 3 vessel, in the Mediterranean Sea just of
An Italian coast guard boat patrols next to the Sea-Watch 3 vessel, in the Mediterranean Sea just off the coast of the southern Italian island of Lampedusa on Thursday.
(Matteo Guidelli / Associated Press)

Italy’s appeal to fellow European Union 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.

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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 Thursday evening and another early Friday.

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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 and forced labor and are kept in squalid, overcrowded detention centers with scant food.

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


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