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So near, so far: migrants allowed into Catania harbour, but cannot disembark

Salvini insists other European countries should take them

Italy is refusing to allow a group of 177 migrants rescued by one of its own warships from landing, despite allowing the vessel to berth in Catania harbour.

The migrants were picked up by the Coast Guard vessel Diciotti from a dinghy 17 miles off Lampedusa after refusing help while transiting the Malta rescue zone.

The ship was anchored for five days off Lampedusa before being allowed into Catania. 

Italian Home Affairs Minister Matteo Salvini had initially insisted that Malta should take the migrants, but Malta replied that the boat was not in distress and since it was in international waters, it had a right of passage and could not be stopped.

Mr Salvini is now insisting other EU counties should step in to take the migrants. On Sunday he also argued that they should be taken back to Libya. 

Photo: ReutersPhoto: Reuters

His press officer told CNN in a statement that the interior minister "has not given and will not give the authorisation for the migrants to disembark until he is assured that the 177 migrants will go elsewhere".

Read: Italian minister calls for sanctions against Malta over rescue 'failure'

On Monday, Italian Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli said on Twitter:  
"The valiant men of the coast guard have fulfilled their duty by saving human lives just 17 miles off Lampedusa. Now Europe needs to play its part fast."
 
The European Commission said this was a matter for national authorities to resolve.

"We don't have competence to coordinate search-and-rescue operations or to indicate places for disembarkation," the commission said, adding that it was contacting member states about the matter. 

Several charities working with refugee have expressed concerns over the stand-off.  

"People on board have been abused, tortured, trafficked. They urgently need to receive assistance and the right to seek asylum. A fundamental right, not a crime," a spokeswoman for the UN Refugee Agency said.  

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