Italy vows to sue NGO over migrant rescue boat

While 47 migrants are stranded at sea, Italian interior minister wants to take legal action against Dutch rescue vessel.

    An Italian coastguard patroller flanks the Sea-Watch rescue ship off the Sicilian coast [Salvatore Cavalli/AP]
    An Italian coastguard patroller flanks the Sea-Watch rescue ship off the Sicilian coast [Salvatore Cavalli/AP]

    Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has threatened to take legal action against the crew of a migrant rescue boat stranded off Sicily, accusing it of supporting illegal immigration.

    His remarks came as Sicilian prosecutors sought to launch an investigation into Salvini for kidnapping and illegal detention after he refused 177 migrants and refugees permission to disembark from the rescue vessel Diciotti last October, Italian media reported.

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    Italy on Friday called on the Dutch government to take in the 47 migrants stuck on the Dutch-flagged Sea-Watch 3, which is operated by a German-run charity. The boat is currently stationed off the coast of Sicily as Salvini refuses it permission to reach the shore.

    "The Government of the Italian Republic invites the Government of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to urgently prepare what is necessary to organize the transfer into Dutch territory of the 47 migrants," a note issued by the Italian Interior Ministry said.

    "If the Dutch government is not able to control vessels, which carry its country's flag there's a serious problem: The flag should be withdrawn immediately!" Salvini said on Twitter

    The Dutch government rejected the call.

    "It is up to the Sea-Watch 3 captain to find a safe haven nearby," the Justice Ministry in The Hague, which is responsible for asylum issues, said.       

    The migrants and refugees on the Sea-Watch 3 were rescued six days ago and have had no port of call since. Their vessel was allowed to enter Italian territorial waters on Friday as it needed cover from rough seas, the Italian coastguard said in a statement.     

    According to Italian prosecutor Caterina Ajello, who serves the Catania district in Sicily, the government is not allowed to prevent unaccompanied minors on the vessel from disembarking.

    "The law is clear. Minors on board can't be expelled nor rejected: they have to be disembarked" she told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. 

    Several Italian cities have offered to welcome the Sea-Watch 3, but it is up to the national government - and not local mayors - to give docking rights to the vessel.   

    Salvini said Italy had "no desire" to keep the migrants stuck at sea. "We can't wait to let them arrive, safe and sound, in other European countries. There is no space [for them] in Italy," he said.   

    Since a populist coalition took power in Italy last year, Rome has denied rescue vessels right to dock in its ports.

    Earlier this month, 49 migrants were stranded for a record 19 days before Malta accepted them.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies