A coastguard boat approaches the German humanitarian group's rescue boat Sea Watch 3, to deliver food and blankets for the cold, off the coast of Syracuse, Italy, Sunday, Jan. 27, 2019. The Italian coast guard is bringing socks, shoes, bread and fruit to 47 migrants who have been stranded at sea for nine days aboard a German ship. (AP Photo/Salvatore Cavalli)

Italy: 5 EU nations will take in migrants stranded at sea

January 29, 2019 - 12:40 pm

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte says five European Union nations are stepping forward to help resolve the latest impasse involving migrants stuck at sea on a humanitarian ship, but he bemoaned the lack of a systematic EU way to deal with migrant rescues.

Conte said Tuesday that the crisis over the Sea-Watch 3, which has been stuck off Sicily with 47 rescued migrants since Friday, demonstrates the EU's "incapacity to manage this phenomenon with shared European mechanisms." He spoke Tuesday in Cyprus at the close of a southern European summit.

But Conte said individual countries had stepped forward late Tuesday to say they would take some of the migrants. The Italian news agency ANSA, citing Conte, said the five countries are Germany, France, Portugal, Romania and Malta.

There was no immediate word on when or where the migrants, who were rescued Jan. 19 off the coast of Libya, would disembark.

Conte was to meet with the leaders of Italy's two governing coalition parties, including hard-line Interior Minister Matteo Salvini of the League party, upon his return to Rome.

Italy's populist government has refused to allow humanitarian ships to dock in its ports in a bid to force its European partners to share the burden of arrivals.

During the same press conference as Conte, French President Emmanuel Macron said France abided by three principals: respect for humanitarian rights in maritime matters, disembarkation at the nearest port and distributing the migrants. He said these standards should become a permanent mechanism.

Conte also said an EU trust fund aimed at propping up African economies to stem the flow of migrants isn't large enough. Echoing Conte, Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said it's an "absolute necessity" for Europe to boost Africa's economic development.

The Dutch-flagged Sea Watch 3, which is operated by a German humanitarian group, was allowed into Italian waters late last week off the Sicilian port of Syracuse due to deteriorating weather conditions.

Human rights activists and some politicians have denounced Italy's refusal to allow the migrants to land as inhumane.

"The psychological conditions of these people is worsening quickly. They need to get immediate medical attention on land," EU lawmaker Cecile Kyenge told Sky TG24.

Earlier Tuesday, Europe's human rights court denied a request by the head of the Sea Watch group, the Sea Watch 3's captain and one of the migrants to disembark the 47 migrants.

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, however requested in its decision that Italy "take all necessary measures as soon as possible" to give the migrants adequate medical care, food, water and supplies. And it said the 15 unaccompanied minors on the boat should receive legal guardianship.

Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli claimed on Twitter that the human rights court had sided with Italy.

"We must guarantee the migrants food, treatment and adequate assistance. And that is what we are doing. But we don't have an obligation to disembark," he said.

In another similar instance, Salvini faces possible charges for failing to allow 177 migrants to disembark at a port in Catania in August.

Prosecutors have declined to press charges for kidnapping and abuse of office, saying Salvini was enacting government policy beyond the scope of the courts. But a judicial review body ruled otherwise, and has asked the Senate, where Salvini has a seat, to allow the case to procced.

The migrants in that case were allowed to disembark after five days.

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Barry reported from Milan. Angela Charlton in Paris also contributed.

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