Migrants allowed to disembark Open Arms ship at Lampedusa as Italian government shakes


Migrants allowed to disembark Open Arms ship at Lampedusa as Italian government shakes originally appeared on abcnews.go.com

Dozens of people were allowed to disembark a rescue ship on the Italian island of Lampedusa, ending a 19-day standoff between the Spain-based rescue organization and the Italian government.

The Open Arms ship, managed by an NGO of the same name, had been waiting in the central Mediterranean with nearly 100 migrants, largely from Africa, to be allowed port on Lampedusa.

However, the Italian government, under Interior Minister Matteo Salvini -- the leader of the country's anti-immigrant party -- has not allowed private migrant rescue ships to dock in Italian ports. And the Open Arms refused to move elsewhere.

PHOTO:A man cries as he hugs a crew member after disembarking from the Open Arms rescue ship on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, southern Italy, Aug. 20, 2019. (Salvatore Cavalli/AP)

(MORE: Migrants jump overboard from rescue ship after being denied port in Italy)

Minors and those needing medical treatment were eventually taken to the shore, but nearly 100 people remained on board. After more than two weeks on the ship, some migrants chose to jump overboard this week, attempting to swim to shore.

They were rescued by Italian coastguard operations.

The migrants were finally allowed to leave the ship on Tuesday night, after Luigi Patronaggio, a prosecutor from Agrigento, Sicily, who has had Salvini under investigation for his harsh migrant policies, boarded the ship, met with port authorities, and ordered the seizure of the ship, according to The Associated Press.

The permission to land also came after five European Union nations -- Spain, France, Germany, Luxembourg and Portugal -- agreed to be the ones to actually take in the migrants, according to Reuters.

PHOTO: Migrants on board the Open Arms vessel celebrate the news of an Italian prosecutor who has ordered that the migrants be disembarked on the island of Lampedusa, southern Italy, Aug. 20, 2019. (Francisco Gentico/AP)

"And finally, after 19 captive days on the deck of a ship, all of the people on board will walk on hard land," Open Arms tweeted in Spanish, along with a video of people apparently on the ship hugging and celebrating.

The NGO added in another tweet that there were 83 people aboard and that they would be receiving immediate assistance on Lampedusa.

Salvini, who took office last summer, did not appear cowed. He livestreamed a video of himself on Facebook discussing the Open Arms ship, with a caption referencing past investigations of his migrant policies.

"I am not afraid," he said in part in Italian, "[but] proud to defend the borders and security of my country."

The arrivals came as tensions between Salvini and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte reached a head, fueled in part by the Open Arms crisis. Among other disagreements, Conte had urged Salvini to "urgently adopt the necessary measures to ensure assistance and protection for minors present in the boat," according to CNN.

Last week, Conte said in an open letter that Salvini was "obsessive" about closing ports to migrants.

PHOTO: A migrants is rescued at sea after diving from the Open Arms ship, off the coast of Lampedusa, Italy, Aug. 20, 2019. (Concetta Rizzo/EPA via Shutterstock)

After an apparent power play by Salvini calling for a non-confidence vote in Conte and for new elections, Conte resigned Tuesday, criticizing Salvini along the way.

Conte has been asked to stay on as a caretaker in the prime minister role, according to Reuters, as the government attempts to put itself back together and avoid an early election.

(MORE: Humanitarian ship resumes Mediterranean migrant rescues despite European resistance)

In the meantime, people are still attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has called on Italy to change its policies and allow rescue ships to dock.

At least 576 people have died so far this year trying to cross the sea on the Central Mediterranean route to Italy, according to the International Organization for Migration's latest report through Aug. 4. Last year, the UNHCR found that while fewer people are attempting to make the crossing, it had become deadlier.

PHOTO: A migrant is rescued at sea after diving from the Open Arms ship off the coast of Lampedusa, southern Italy, Aug. 20, 2019. (Italian Coast Guard/EPA via Shutterstock)

Another showdown is brewing, too: the Ocean Viking, a rescue ship operated by two French humanitarian groups, according to the AP, is sailing between Malta and the Italian island of Linosa with 356 people on-board, awaiting permission to land.

After the Ocean Arms landed, the European Union's executive Commission asked states to agree to take migrants from that ship in, Reuters reported Wednesday.

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