Stranded migrants to leave rescue ship – Italian PM

FILE PHOTO: Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte awaits to welcome participants as they arrive to attend the first day of the international conference on Libya in Palermo, Italy, November 12, 2018. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane/File Photo

MILAN (Reuters) – Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said 47 migrants who have been blocked at sea off Sicily for 11 days on a rescue ship will be allowed to come ashore on Wednesday, ending the latest migrant standoff.

“In a few hours, they will begin to disembark,” Conte told reporters in Milan. The migrants have been on the vessel since they were rescued off the Libyan coast.

Italy’s populist government, which took office last year, has closed its ports to humanitarian vessels in a bid to force European Union partners to take a share of those rescued in the Mediterranean.

The Dutch-flagged Sea-Watch 3, which is run by a German humanitarian group, has been moored off the coast of Sicily as it waits for a safe port. Some 13 minors are among those on board and the long wait has taken its toll, Sea Watch said on Wednesday.

“Some people have stopped eating, shrunk into themselves, others have become emotionally unstable,” Frank Dorner, the ship’s doctor, said in a statement.

Five European countries agreed to accept some of the migrants, Conte said on Tuesday, naming Germany, France, Portugal, Malta and Romania. On Wednesday, he said Luxembourg and Italy would also welcome some of them.

The leaders of the two parties in the coalition government had pressed the Netherlands, France and Germany to accept the migrants this week. The Netherlands refused, saying the EU must draft a plan that automatically redistributes migrants saved at sea.

It is the second time in a month that the Sea-Watch 3 has been stranded at sea with rescued migrants and no safe port.

The previous standoff ended after 19 days with the migrants allowed ashore in Malta and an agreement among eight EU countries, including Italy, to subsequently take them in.

(Reporting by Lisa Di Giuseppe, writing by Steve Scherer; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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