A Spanish aid boat with 147 rescued migrants aboard is anchored near a tiny southern Italian island while Italy’s interior and defence ministers row over their fate.
The ship entered Italian territorial waters after a court overruled a ban by right-wing Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini.
He responded by issuing a fresh decree banning the ship from docking on the island of Lampedusa to disembark the passengers, rescued two weeks earlier, but defence minister Elisabetta Trenta has refused to countersign it – saying she is “listening to my conscience”.
She added: “We can’t forget that behind the polemics of these days there are children and youths who suffered violence and every kind of abuse. Politics can’t lose humanity.”
The squabbling between Mr Salvini, who leads the anti-migrant League, the populist government’s junior partner, and Ms Trenta, who is from senior coalition party the 5-Star Movement, reflects exploding political tensions that have put Premier Giuseppe Conte’s 14-month government on the verge of collapse.
Mr Salvini says Italy has already taken hundreds of thousands of rescued migrants in recent years. He insists other European Union nations should accept the migrants, most of whom are fleeing poverty and are not eligible for refugee status or asylum.
The Spanish government has said it will take some of the migrants on the ship provided other European nations do so too.
“Our country is ready to take part in a balanced distribution of the migrants aboard the ship,” the office of caretaker Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said.
Even as the fighting over the Open Arms boat played out, another migrant rescue boat drama loomed.
The Ocean Viking, a Norwegian ship operated by Doctors Without Borders and SOS Mediterranee, was awaiting word on where it can safely disembark 356 migrants, who were plucked to safety from human traffickers’ unseaworthy boats in various operations.
So far it has been refused entry to Italy and Malta.
The UN refugee agency earlier this week urged European governments to step forward and agree to take those stranded on the rescue boats.