Mon | Oct 15, 2018

Food sent to migrants off Sicily as Italy awaits EU offers

Published:Sunday | July 15, 2018 | 10:13 AM
The Diciotti ship of the Italian Coast Guard, with 67 migrants on board rescued 4 days ago by the Vos Thalassa freighter, enters the Sicilian port of Trapani, southern Italy, Thursday, July 12.

ROME (AP) — Another day’s worth of food and beverages was being sent Sunday to a pair of military ships off Sicily as Italy waited for more European nations to pledge to take a share of the hundreds of migrants on board before allowing the asylum-seekers to step off onto Italian soil.

Germany agreed to accept 50 of the migrants, following similar offers by fellow European Union members France and Malta extended Saturday.

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has vowed to prohibit further disembarking in Italy of migrants who were rescued while crossing the Mediterranean Sea unless the burden is shared by other EU countries.

Salvini, who leads the right-wing League party in Italy’s populist coalition government, told reporters today the “aim was for brotherly re-distribution” of the 450 rescued passengers on the two military ships.

“The final objective is to have no one depart” from Libya on human smugglers’ boats, Salvini said today.

More than 600,000 migrants were rescued in the central Mediterranean and brought to Italian territory in the last few years. Many were economic migrants ineligible for asylum. Since their home countries often don’t facilitate repatriation, Italy has been left to shelter many of them, although thousands have slipped out of Italy to seek work or relatives in northern Europe.

Finding takers for all of the asylum-seekers on the military ships waiting off Sicily, in the grips of a heat wave, could be a long process.

Baby food, milk and juice were among the provisions being delivered Sunday so the people aboard will have necessities for another 24 hours.

A fishing boat, launched Friday from Libya by human traffickers and crowded with some 450 migrants, sailed to tiny Linosa island off Sicily, passing through both Libya’s and Malta’s search-and-rescue areas.

Off sparsely populated Linosa, a vessel for European border agency Frontex and an Italian border police boat took aboard the migrants and brought them to waters outside the Sicilian port of Pozzallo.

Several passengers suffering from dehydration, pregnant women and some babies have been taken ashore in Pozzallo. Italian media said a woman weighing 35 kilos (77 pounds) after months of malnourishment in Libya was among them.

Sky TG24 TV reported that many of the rescued passengers originally are from Eritrea.

In offering to take in 50 migrants, the German government cited the context of “ongoing talks about greater bilateral cooperation on asylum”.

According to EU figures, Germany received almost one million asylum applications in 2016 and 2017, the most of any bloc members. Italy came in second with about 250,000.

The number of migrants arriving in Italy so far this year is down about 80 per cent compared to 2017. Salvini has vowed to stop all arrivals except for war refugees and people in a few other select categories, such as pregnant women or young children.