Ships carrying hundreds of migrants rescued at sea were ordered by Italy’s far-right government not to release all passengers upon arrival, reviving a policy sure to roil Germany and other European Union governments.
Interior minister Matteo Piantedosi said nongovernmental organisation vessels carrying migrants must stay away from Italian ports and return to international waters once minors and vulnerable passengers disembarked.
Authorities allowed the German humanitarian ship Humanity 1, with 179 migrants, to enter the port of Catania in Sicily and disembark 144 of them early Sunday.
The ship, run by the SOS Humanity charity, is challenging the government’s decision to distinguish “vulnerable” people, saying all the migrants on board were rescued at sea and, therefore, were entitled to safe harbor under international law.
The ship’s crew refuses to leave the port until all passengers can go ashore.
A second ship, the Norway-flagged Geo Barents carrying more than 500 people, is approaching the same Sicilian port and likely faces the same limitations.
The restrictions mirror those implemented in 2018 by former interior minister Matteo Salvini, whose policy triggered diplomatic tensions with EU allies.
Last week, France and Germany urged Italy to grant a safe port to the hundreds of migrants stranded on NGO ships in the central Mediterranean.
A hard-line stance against illegal migration was a key campaign platform of new Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, the country’s most far-right premier since World War II.