CATANIA, Italy (Reuters) – Thirteen sick migrants on Saturday left the Italian rescue ship docked for five days in a Sicilian port and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said he was working on a “positive solution” for the remaining 137 people on board.
The migrants, mainly from Eritrea, have been stranded in the port of Catania since Monday because the Italian government is refusing to let them off the boat until other European Union states agree to take some of them in. The United Nations called on Saturday for reason from all sides after a meeting of envoys from 10 EU states in Brussels a day earlier failed to break the deadlock.
“Frightened people who may be in need of international protection should not be caught in the maelstrom of politics,” the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said in a statement.
It appealed to EU member states to “urgently” offer relocation places to the rescued people, in line with an agreement at an EU summit in June, and in the meantime urged Italy to allow “the immediate disembarkation of those on board.”
The only help from within the bloc came late on Saturday from Ireland whose foreign minister, Simon Coveney, said the government had agreed to accept 20 to 25 migrants.
Ireland’s announcement followed an offer from non-EU member Albania to take in 20 of the migrants.
Italy’s Foreign Ministry called Albania’s offer “a signal of great solidarity and friendship which Italy greatly appreciates.”
Salvini was in discussions with other non-EU countries who might be willing to follow Albania’s example, an Interior Ministry source said earlier on Saturday.
Italy’s anti-establishment government that took office three months ago has refused to back down, despite criticism from rights groups and the opposition.
The migrants that disembarked on Saturday — seven women and six men — were ordered off the boat by doctors after a check-up carried out at around midday.
They finally left the boat one-by-one some six hours later, stepping down a flight of steps to touch dry land for the first time since leaving Libya at least 10 days ago. They were taken by ambulance to Catania’s Garibaldi hospital.
The doctors had recommended all 11 women on board be disembarked, but four refused to leave their partners on board.
More than 650,000 people have reached Italian shores since 2014 and Rome says it will not let any more rescue ships dock unless the migrants are shared out around the EU.