Italian minister agrees to let 27 minors off migrant ship
ROME — Italy’s hardline interior minister buckled under pressure Saturday and agreed to let 27 unaccompanied minors leave a migrant rescue ship after two weeks at sea, temporarily easing a political standoff that has threatened the viability of the populist government.
In recent days, Premier Giuseppe Conte had written to Interior Minister Matteo Salvini demanding that minors be allowed off the boat.
After initially refusing, Salvini wrote back Saturday with a three-page missive of his own saying he would do so but made clear it was Conte’s choice and that it didn’t set a precedent.
Spanish aid group Open Arms said the decision concerned 27 unaccompanied minors who were picked up off Libya earlier this month along with more than 100 other migrants. The minors were transferred Saturday to an Italian border patrol boat for disembarkation and processing on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa.
The fate of the other migrants still aboard the Open Arms off Lampedusa remained uncertain.
Open Arms had won a legal battle to enter Italy’s territorial waters, and Conte had secured offers from Spain and five other European Union nations to take the migrants in. But the ship remained off the coast because of Salvini’s policy prohibiting humanitarian aid groups from docking.
The standoff over the Open Arms came as another humanitarian rescue boat, the Ocean Viking, maintained its course off Italy with 356 migrants aboard and no port to disembark.