UN urges EU states to accept migrants stranded on Italy coastguard ship



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 migrants.

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".

A high-level

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.

'Unconstructive comments'

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

were taken".

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.