Rescued migrants being landed in Agrigento
A four-day spat between Italy and Malta on the destination of 140 migrants rescued by a Turkish-owned freighter was drawing to a close this morning as the migrants started being landed at Porto Empedocle in Agrigento.
Some of the migrants were transferred from the ship to a Coastguard launch and others onto an Italian Navy corvette. The ship itself entered the Sicilian harbour early this morning.
The migrants were picked up by the ship Pimar E on Thursday evening close to the Italian island of Lampedusa. But while Italy on Friday refused to take them in because they were in Malta's search and rescue area, Malta also rejected them, arguing that in terms of international conventions, they should be taken to the nearest safe port, in this case Lampedusa.
The Italian Foreign Ministry said in a statement yesterday evening that the migrants were being accepted for humanitarian reasons and acceptance "does not constitute a precedent in recognizing Malta's reasons" for refusing the migrants.
The stalemate was broken by Italian Prime Minster Silvio Berlusconi after discussing the case on the phone with Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi and EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.
Dr Gonzi had earlier also urged the EU to intervene.
Foreign Minister Tonio Borg welcomed Italy’s decision to let the migrants land, and insisted that Malta had been right all along.
“I think this was the right decision considering also that this developed into a humanitarian crisis,” he said.
He refused to call this a victory for Malta and said that the two countries had to continue to cooperate.
“This was a dispute between friends. We just have to learn to respect each other’s points of view. But I think this has proven that Malta position was correct.”
A number of the rescued migrants were taken to Lampedusa for urgent medical attention.
The issue is expected to be raised at an EU Foreign Ministers' meeting in Brussels this week.