Germany to take in 50 migrants rescued off Italy

A migrant at the port of Tarifa in southern Spain last Saturday, after she was rescued from a toy dinghy in the Strait of Gibraltar. Germany said yesterday that it would take in 50 migrants, matching similar pledges by France and Malta. Italy has sin
A migrant at the port of Tarifa in southern Spain last Saturday, after she was rescued from a toy dinghy in the Strait of Gibraltar. Germany said yesterday that it would take in 50 migrants, matching similar pledges by France and Malta. Italy has since Saturday requested that European Union peers take some of the 450 migrants stranded off the Italian coast.PHOTO: REUTERS

BERLIN • Germany said yesterday it had agreed with Italy and will take in 50 of the 450 migrants aboard two European Union border agency vessels after Rome's Interior Ministry refused to allow them to come ashore, matching similar pledges by France and Malta.

Italy has since last Saturday requested that EU peers take some of the migrants stranded aboard the Frontex ships off the Italian coast.

A German government spokesman said in a statement yesterday that "Germany and Italy have agreed that, in view of the ongoing talks on intensified bilateral cooperation on asylum policy, Germany is ready to take in 50 people".

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte had written last Saturday on Facebook that "France and Malta will respectively take 50 migrants each... Other countries will follow very quickly".

Mr Conte said he had spent the day in contact with his 27 EU peers, reminding them that they had agreed at their summit at the end of last month on the need to share the migration burden.

Italy's new populist government, which came to power on June 1, wants to block any further migrant arrivals by boat and has banned non-governmental organisations' rescue ships from docking in Italian ports, accusing them of aiding human traffickers.

The latest migrants, like thousands of others, had set sail from Libya in a single wooden vessel which was identified early last Friday.

Last Saturday morning, as the two Frontex vessels approached the boat, several migrants threw themselves overboard, prompting immediate efforts to rescue them, Italian sources said.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said he saw Italy's request as "a road to hell".

"Just like the other EU prime ministers, I got a copy of a letter from Italian Prime Minister (Giuseppe) Conte... in which he asks the EU to take care of some of the 450 people now stranded at sea," Mr Babis tweeted.

This approach "only motivates smugglers and increases their income. Our country won't take any migrants", Mr Babis added, calling for "a principle of voluntariness".

Meanwhile, Spain's new Foreign Minister Josep Borrell yesterday said that the EU's prized Schengen free-movement system was "beginning to disappear" under pressure from migrants arriving in the bloc.

"Through the back door, France, Italy and Germany have placed controls on the borders because of the migration crisis," Mr Borrell told the daily El Pais.

Spanish rescuers saved more than 340 migrants in the Mediterranean last Saturday, including one person from North Africa who was attempting the crossing using a truck tyre as a flotation device, they said.

Spain's coast guards said their ships had rescued 240 people spread out in 12 boats, 10 of them in the Strait of Gibraltar and two others in the Alboran Sea, and the individual on the truck tyre.

A spokesman added that the Guardia Civil police force had also saved more than 100 migrants in the Mediterranean.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 16, 2018, with the headline 'Germany to take in 50 migrants rescued off Italy'. Print Edition | Subscribe