MADRID/ROME (Reuters) – Spain has offered to take some of around 150 migrants on a rescue ship that has been blocked from docking in Italy, Rome authorities said on Thursday, signaling a possible end to a standoff that has fueled infighting in the coalition government.
Spanish migrant rescue ship Open Arms is seen close to the Italian shore in Lampedusa, Italy August 15, 2019 REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane
The vessel was in Italian territorial waters on Thursday, said a spokeswoman for its operator, Spanish charity Proactiva Open Arms. Its passengers have been in limbo since they were picked up in the Mediterranean in early August.
Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini had refused to allow them to disembark, triggering the latest of a number of flashpoints over immigration between European governments since he launched a clampdown on refugee arrivals by sea after taking office in June 2018 .
But a Rome administrative court ruled on Wednesday that the vessel, also called Open Arms, should be allowed to enter Italian territorial waters.
The office of Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Thursday that Spain had expressed willingness to take some of the migrants once they had disembarked.
Salvini’s League and its coalition partner, the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, were already in open warfare after Salvini said last week the alliance had become unworkable and called for elections.
Saying he would “never be an accomplice to human traffickers,” Salvini issued an emergency order to prevent Open Arms arriving at the Italian island of Lampedusa, but the defense minister, who is from 5-Star, has refused to counter-sign it.
Openly challenging the League leader, who has so far dictated Italy’s immigration policy, Elisabetta Trenta said defying the court was illegal and added that “politics must not lose its humanity.”
Hollywood star Richard Gere visited the Open Arms last week and urged the Italian government to stop “demonising people” and allow the boat to disembark.
The Spanish government declined to comment, but daily El Pais said three unnamed government sources had confirmed Madrid’s willingness to take in some of the migrants.
The newspaper said the exact number that Spain would take had yet to be determined, under a broader deal in which France, Germany and others would also take part.
The charity’s spokeswoman said the ship was anchored five miles (eight km) off Lampedusa.
Open Arms’ founder Oscar Camps told reporters on Wednesday that the NGO would request medical evacuation for all those on board once the vessel was in Italian waters.
Reporting by Ingrid Melander and Mark Bendeich and Gavin Jones in Rome; editing by John Stonestreet