Concern is mounting about the medical and psychological health of 150 migrants who were spending their 10th day stuck aboard a coast guard ship while the Italian government insists that other European Union nations must take them.
The health minister requested an on-board visit by doctors to the Diciotti coast guard ship, which is docked in Catania, Sicily.
After it was done, authorities decided that 16 migrants should be taken off the ship for medical reasons, two of them for suspected cases of tuberculosis and three for pneumonia, Red Cross officials said.
The standoff prompted an impassioned appeal by the UN refugee agency’s chief, asking Italy to let them disembark and urging EU countries to take responsibility for the asylumseekers, most of them young men fleeing harsh conditions in Eritrea.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, speaking in Geneva, said it is time to end a “race to the bottom on who can take the least responsibility for people rescued at sea”.
He urged European countries “to do the right thing and offer places of asylum for people rescued from the Mediterranean Sea in their time of need”.
But Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has been adamant that the migrants be kept on the ship until fellow EU nations pledge to take them.
Mr Salvini, who leads the anti-migrant League party, has said he 9s ready to defend his reasons for ordering the migrants kept aboard.
“If someone wants to investigate me, investigate me,” Salvini tweeted.
- Press Association