Six EU countries have agreed to take in some of the 147 migrants currently stranded on a rescue ship near the Italian island of Lampedusa, Rome announced Thursday, in a welcome development for embattled far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini.
‘France, Germany, Romania, Portugal, Spain and Luxembourg have told me that they are ready to welcome the migrants,’ Italian premier Giuseppe Conte said in an open letter addressed to Salvini, who has sought to ban the Open Arms rescue vessel from entering Italian waters.
‘Once again, my European counterparts are offering us a helping hand,’ Conte wrote, while slamming Salvini who has been calling since last Thursday for the PM to step down.
Salvini has taken a hard line against migrants rescued at sea being brought to Italy, which he says bears an unfair burden in the crisis.
Responding to Conte's announcement, Salvini wrote on Facebook: ‘It is clear that without (my) resolve, the European Union would never have lifted a finger, leaving Italy and the Italians on their own like (previous governments) did for years.’
Salvini, head of the anti-immigration League party, broke with his coalition partner the Five Star Movement (M5S) last week, hoping for a no-confidence vote that would topple the 14-month-old government.
But his gamble failed, and his abandoned partner found an unexpected ally in the opposition Democratic Party (PD).
Both M5S and PD on Tuesday voted against Salvini despite his last-minute offer to back a plan to slash the number of the country's lawmakers.
The fate of the scores of migrants aboard the Open Arms, operated by Spanish charity Proactiva, found itself at the centre of the political crisis in Rome.
Earlier this month Salvini, who is also deputy PM, signed a decree banning the Open Arms from Italian waters, saying it was needed to protect public order.
But Proactiva appealed to an administrative court, which on Wednesday suspended the decree.
Salvini then signed a new one blocking the ship, but in a demonstration of his diminished power, Italy's defence minister blocked it on Thursday.
Elisabetta Trenta, an M5S party member with the authority to sign off on Salvini's decree, announced that she has decided not to do so.
‘I took this decision for solid legal reasons, listening to my conscience,’ Trenta said in a statement.
‘We must never forget that behind the polemics of the past few days, there are children and young people who suffered violence and abuse of all types. Politics must never lose sight of humanity.’
The migrants aboard Open Arms had been plucked from boats in the Mediterranean this month with weather conditions encouraging more departures from Libya.
Both Italy and Malta have refused it permission to dock and disembark its passengers.
On Wednesday, however, Trenta dispatched two ships to escort the Open Arms out of concern to evacuate 31 minors after two weeks on board.
- No plan to use force -
Proactiva said it was assured that she does not plan to use force against the migrant ship.
Earlier on Thursday, the Spanish government said it was ready to accept some of the migrants on the Open Arms, on condition that an accord is reached on distributing the migrants between several European countries.
‘Our country is ready to participate in a balanced distribution of the migrants on the boat,’ the government said in a statement, adding that it was working with the European Commission and other EU nations ‘to find a common solution’.
Spain had Tuesday dismissed a request from the ship's captain to take the minors off the Open Arms, arguing that he did not have the legal authority to make an asylum request for them.
Another rescue ship, the Ocean Viking, operated by SOS Mediterranee and Doctors without Borders (MSF), is also looking for a port to dock with more than 350 migrants on board.
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