Italy seizes rescue ship, permits migrants to land in Italy

By The Associated Press | Updated - Mar 19th, 2019 @ 3:15pm | Posted - Mar 19th, 2019 @ 3:14pm


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MILAN (AP) — A humanitarian rescue ship carrying 48 migrants entered the port of Lampedusa, where they were being allowed to disembark Tuesday evening despite an earlier refusal by Italy's hard-line interior minister.

The boat was allowed to enter the port after Sicilian prosecutors ordered it seized, ending the latest standoff with Italy's populist government, which has closed its ports to rescue ships. Interior Minister Matteo Salvini welcomed the seizure of the Mare Jonio, saying "now in Italy there is a government that defends the borders and ensures respect for the law, most of all for human traffickers. Whoever errs pays."

As the boat approached the pier, the migrants on board, all males and mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, yelled "Freedom, freedom." The migrants, including a dozen minors, had been rescued Monday off the coast of Libya by the Italian aid group Mediterranea Saving Humans.

The Mare Jonio had sailed earlier to Italy's southernmost island Lampedusa, where it was flanked by Italian coast guard and finance police boats.

The mayor of Lampedusa challenged Salvini's assertion that Italian ports are closed. Toto Martello said that more than 3,000 migrants arrived in Lampedusa last year on smuggler's boats.

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