The UN's Refugee Agency on Saturday called on EU member states to
urgently agree to take in some of the 150 people stranded on an Italian
coastguard ship, after a fresh immigration row erupted between the bloc
and Italy's populist government.
Dozens of people have been
blocked at the Sicilian port of Catania on the Diciotti vessel since
Monday night because the Italian government is refusing to allow them to
disembark without commitments from the EU to take some of them in.
on Friday said it would pull its funding for the EU as a "compensatory
measure" if the bloc refused to come forward and help with relocating
The UNHCR on Saturday said EU member states
should "urgently" offer places to some of the migrants on the vessel,
adding: "In the meantime, UNHCR urges Italian authorities to allow the
immediate disembarkation of those on board".
meeting of a dozen EU member states in Brussels on Friday, held to
discuss what officials said was the broader issue of the disembarkation
of migrants rescued at sea, failed to produce an immediate solution for
the Diciotti migrants.
"The European Union has decided to
turn its back on Italy once again," Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio
wrote on his Facebook page, adding that his country had no choice but to
"take a compensatory measure in a unilateral way... we are ready to
reduce the funds that we give to the European Union".
want the 20 billion euros ($23 billion) paid by Italian citizens? Then
let them demonstrate that they deserve it and that they are taking
charge of a problem that we can no longer face alone. The borders of
Italy are the borders of Europe," he added.
Migration is a
hot-button issue in Italy, where hundreds of thousands of people have
arrived since 2013 fleeing war, persecution and poverty in the Middle
East, Africa and Asia.
Under EU rules people must seek
asylum in their country of arrival, but Italy's new government has
increasingly barred boats from docking at its ports.
Brussels quickly hit back at Di Maio's comments.
comments, let alone threats, are not helpful and they will not get us
any closer to a solution," European Commission spokesman Alexander
Winterstein told a briefing.
"The EU is a community of rules and it operates on the basis of rules, not threats."
deal was struck about the Diciotti migrants at the talks, as a source
at the European Commission said "this was not a meeting where decisions
Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio warned "We are ready to reduce the funds that we give to the European Union"
the source said they discussed "the need for a shared and rapid
solution for the migrants on board of the Diciotti as well as those most
recently disembarked in Spain and Malta."
EU figures for
2016 say Italy contributed just under 14 billion euros to the EU budget
-- less than one percent of its gross national income -- while the bloc
spent 11.6 billion euros in Italy.
Di Maio, who heads the
anti-establishment Five Star, said Italy didn't want the "mickey taken
out of us by the union's other countries" on the distribution of
"The EU was born of principles like solidarity.
If it is not capable of redistributing 170 people it has serious
problems with its founding principles," he said in an interview with
state broadcaster RAI.
Prosecutors from Sicily were
travelling to Rome to question officials, including Italy's hardline
Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, about the illegal detention of those
"If a judge wants to arrest me, I expect it, no problem," Salvini said Friday.
'We've had enough'
Salvini stopped the majority of the migrants disembarking from the ship after they were rescued on August 15.
His only concession was to allow 27 unaccompanied minors off the boat Wednesday.
polls suggest that Salvini's stance has boosted his far-right League
party's approval rating to around 30 percent -- a more than 10 point
jump from its showing in March's election -- and is now level with the
Five Star Movement with which it has governed Italy since early June.
according to Salvini's own ministry, migrant arrivals are more than 80
percent down on the same period last year, with just over 19,500
arriving up to August 23, compared to 98,000 in 2017.
France, meanwhile, the presidency called for a "co-ordinated, long-term
European mechanism" to distribute migrants that would include Italy.
"There are forces in Italy that are looking to co-operate, we want to
believe Italy wishes to play the game," the Elysee palace said.