Italy to open port only if Netherlands, Germany accept migrants

Diplomatic deadlock on who should take migrants continues while Italian minister defends his hard-line asylum policy.

    Rescue ship Sea-Watch 3 waits off the coast of Siracusa while EU countries fight over who should take migrants on board [Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters]
    Rescue ship Sea-Watch 3 waits off the coast of Siracusa while EU countries fight over who should take migrants on board [Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters]

    Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said he'll allow 49 migrants on board a rescue vessel into the country on condition they will immediately be transferred to the Netherlands

    "In Italy, we have already welcomed, and spent, too much [on migrants]," he said on Twitter on Tuesday.

    The Sea-Watch 3, a Dutch-registered vessel run by the German non-governmental organisation Sea-Watch, rescued the migrants north of the Libyan port of Zuwarah on January 19. It entered Italian waters on Friday to seek shelter from rough seas.

    The Netherlands has turned down the request to accept the migrants, as Dutch authorities said they do not think they are responsible.

    Sea-Watch lodged a complaint before the European Court of Human Rights. The Italian prime minister's office said Monday it would argue before the court it is up to the Netherlands to deal with the NGO ship and its migrants.

    Salvini is "taking the people on board as political hostages", said Sea-Watch spokesman Ruben Neugebauer.

    "They are trying to push it to the Netherlands," he added, referring to Salvini's insistence the Netherlands or Germany take responsibility for the migrants.

    Neugebauer stressed laws governing international waters are clear that ships in distress "must be brought to the nearest safe harbour".

    'Illegal detention'

    It was not the first time a vessel waits at sea to dock while European countries fight over who should take in the asylum seekers.

    Last October, Salvini, leader of the far-right party Lega, for 10 days refused to allow in 177 migrants and refugees from the boat, Diciotti. The case drew attention from Sicilian prosecutors who are calling for an investigation into the interior minister for kidnapping and illegal detention.

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    In a letter to the Corriere della Sera newspaper published on Tuesday, Salvini urged the upper house to reject the request. 

    "This is not about me ... Fighting illegal immigration is of pre-eminent public interest," Salvini wrote. "I am convinced I acted in Italy's best interests and in full respect of my mandate. I would do it again."

    His appeal is likely to cause tensions with his coalition partner, the Five Star Movement, which has presented a clean image and lambasted legislators who try to use parliamentary privilege to avoid legal action.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies