Italy migrant row: UN calls for 'urgent' end to ship stand-off

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On Saturday Ireland said it would take 20-25 of the stranded migrants

The United Nations appealed on Saturday for EU members to “urgently” offer relocation places to 150 migrants caught in a stand-off involving an Italian coastguard vessel.

The Diciotti has been docked in the Sicilian port of Catania since Monday.

The Italian government is refusing to let the migrants disembark until a solution is reached regarding their relocation with other European states.

On Friday a meeting of ten EU envoys in Brussels failed to provide a solution.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in a statement that Europe has recognised “a fundamental and legal obligation” to help “people fleeing war, violence and persecution” throughout its history.

“The time has come to end the back-and-forth that has seen countries competing in a race to the bottom on who can take the least responsibility for people rescued at sea,” he said.

“It is dangerous and immoral to put the lives of refugees and asylum-seekers at risk while states engage in a political tug-of-war on long-term solutions.”

The UN says that more than 1,600 people have lost their lives trying to cross into Europe in 2018, despite overall numbers being down.

Most of the migrants on the Diciotti come from Eritrea and were rescued on their crossing by the Italian coastguard.

Under EU rules, people must seek asylum where they arrive, but Italy has increasingly barred boats from docking.

Protests have bubbled throughout the week after Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini refused the vessel permission to disembark until the EU agreed to distribute the migrants among other countries.

Mr Salvini has maintained they are working to achieve a “positive and concrete solution” that was not a “burden” on Italian citizens.

“I want to say that the dozens of complaints, insults and threats levelled at give me more and more strength to go on, and for me are badges of honour on my chest,” he said of criticism.

He has repeatedly taken to social media to laugh off reports he was under investigation by a local prosecutor over his refusal to accept the ship.

Sixteen people were allowed to disembark on Saturday on doctors’ orders after inspectors from the Italian Healthy Ministry and the Red Cross went on board the vessel.

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Sixteen migrants were allowed to disembark on Saturday for health reasons

Earlier this week 27 unaccompanied minors and 13 people in need of urgent medical help were also allowed to get off.

Some of those left onboard are reported to be refusing food in protest.

Simon Coveney, the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, said in a Tweet that their government had agreed to accept 20-25 of the migrants as part of a solution to the stand-off.

Since 2014, more than 640,000 migrants have landed on Italy’s shores. Although many have since left for other countries, some remain.

In July 450 migrants were allowed to disembark in Sicily once France, Germany, Malta, Portugal and Spain had each agreed to take 50 migrants each.

Mr Salvini has previously said Sicily must stop being “the refugee camp of Europe”.

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