Sixty-seven migrants were allowed to disembark from an Italian coast guard vessel in Sicily on Thursday night, after being kept at bay for days amid reports of threats made to their rescuers.
The vessel had been allowed to enter the port of Trapani by Italian infrastructure minister Danilo Toninelli earlier on Thursday.
But interior minister Matteo Salvini did not let the rescued people leave the ship, pending an investigation into the alleged perpetrators of the threats.
The dispute was solved only after President Sergio Mattarella called Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to break the impasse — a rare step for the head of state, which rarely intervenes in everyday politics in Italy.
Mattarella expressed his concerns over the most vulnerable on board, Ansa news agency reported on Friday.
After the phone call, Conte announced that the disembarkation had been allowed.
“Identification procedures on the people on board have been completed, and especially on those whose alleged behaviors may amount to crimes,” Conte said in a statement Thursday night.
“The police investigation is going to continue in the next days, by gathering testimonies of all witnesses, and the results will be sent to the prosecution office in charge,” he explained.
The 67 migrants had sailed from Libya earlier this week, and were rescued by commercial ship Vos Thalassa.
They were transferred on board Italy’s coast guard ship Diciotti on Tuesday, after at least two of the migrants allegedly made threats against the freighter’s crew if the ship was sailed back to Libya.
Before the transfer, the interior minister had denied the Vos Thalassa permission to enter Italian ports with them.
Within the group, one man from Ghana and another from Sudan are now being investigated for private aggravated threat against the captain and crew of the commercial ship.
No charge against them has been pressed so far, and a decision will be up to prosecutors in Trapani coordinating the investigation.
Mattarella’s intervention was received by Salvini with “regret and amazement”, according to Italian newspapers.
“Nobody will make me change my belief that the fight against human traffickers and illegal immigration is one of the priorities for the country,” he told RTL radio channel in an interview.
The group of migrants and asylum seekers came from countries of various origins. It comprised 23 people from Pakistan, 12 from Sudan, and 10 from Libya, while the others came from Bangladesh, Morocco, among others.
Before they were finally allowed off the ship, the UN agencies UNHCR, UNICEF, and IOM, and two NGOs — all of which had staff deployed at the port of Trapani — had expressed “deep concern” over their state.
In a joint statement, they had urged Italian authorities to “activate first aid procedures, and (to give) permission to all of the people on board to disembark, starting with minors and the vulnerable.” Enditem