Italy's government wants other European Union countries
to commit to taking in some 135 migrants rescued overnight before it
allows their disembarkation on Italian shores.
The migrants are currently on the Italian coastguard vessel Gregoretti, according to the European Commission. They were first picked up on Thursday, some of them with the help of an Italian fishing boat, the Adnkronos news agency said.
Interior minister and deputy premier Matteo Salvini said Friday that he "will not authorize any disembarkation until a concrete commitment comes from Europe to take in all the migrants aboard the ship."
Salvini has often threatened to keep migrants at sea as a way of pressuring EU partners to accept burden-sharing deals. Italy, along with Malta, Greece and Spain, has handled the lion's share of migrants arriving in the EU via the Mediterranean in recent years - a state of affairs that these countries deem unacceptable.
The commission confirmed Friday that it had received a request from Italy to help facilitate the disembarkation of the rescued people. The EU executive will now make contact with member states, spokeswoman Natasha Bertraud told dpa.
"Let's see if words are followed by facts," Salvini wrote on Twitter, indicating that he is braced for another showdown. The issue of migrants rescued at sea has long been a cause of friction between EU capitals.
Fresh efforts to find a long-term solution to distributing rescued people throughout the bloc have come to nothing in the past couple of weeks. The commission typically acts as a broker, sounding out which member states are willing to take in rescued migrants. Salvini usually denies disembarkation rights to charity vessels, but it is highly unusual for him to apply the same tactics to an Italian police unit.
On Thursday, there was a shipwreck off the coast of Libya in which around 150 people are presumed to have died and 147 were rescued, UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) spokesman Charlie Yaxley said on Twitter.
"That would make this the largest shipwreck of 2019. This tragedy has to now lead to action," Yaxley said, calling for more sea rescue boats in the Mediterranean. The accident "is a terrible reminder of the risks still faced by those making this dangerous journey to Europe," the commission said Friday in a joint statement from foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and others.
Also on Friday, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said: "Restoring rescue at sea, an end to refugee and migrant detention in Libya, increasing safe pathways out of Libya must happen now before it is too late for many more desperate people."
A spokesman for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres added that some of the survivors rescued by the Libyan coastguard have reportedly been placed in the Tajoura migrant detention centre, which is close to a military facility and was hit by an airstrike on July 2 that resulted in more than 50 deaths.
"Libya is not a safe country of asylum and that refugees must be treated with dignity and respect, and in accordance with international law," the spokesman said. Separately, a total of 67 migrants were rescued off Malta on Friday, the Armed Forces of Malta said, in the second Maltese rescue in two days.
According to Alarm Phone, a support group for migrants in distress, the migrants said they had spent more than 40 hours at sea and had run out of water. The rescue came a day after another 76 migrants landed on the Mediterranean island.
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