Rome

Italy hailed for taking migrants rejected by Malta

Commissioner Malmstrom praises Rome's decision

Italy hailed for taking migrants rejected by Malta

(by Elisa Cecchi) Rome, August 7 - Italy agreed to take in 102 migrants rescued by a Libyan-registered tanker and refused entry by Malta on Wednesday in a decision welcomed by European authorities and international human rights organizations. The migrants - including pregnant women and an infant - arrived in the Sicilian port of Siracusa early on Wednesday afternoon where they were reported in good condition. Rome gave the green light to accept the Sudanese and Eritrean migrants stranded in the Mediterranean after intense overnight diplomatic negotiations. The tanker 'Salamis' picked them up close to the Libyan coast on Sunday and headed to Malta. But Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat refused to allow the migrants to land on the Mediterranean island, despite calls from the European Union for him to do so. EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom on Wednesday thanked Italy for stepping in and ending the migrants' ordeal. ''Thank you Italy for taking the stranded migrants'', she wrote on Twitter. Malmstrom also called on other member states to show solidarity. ''Relocation of asylum seekers is a way to show solidarity in Europe'', she wrote in another tweet. ''(It) would be great if all 28 EU members would help..''. The EU had called on Malta to accept the migrants. On Wednesday, Muscat thanked Italian Premier Enrico Letta for the ''concrete commitment'' shown over the case at a news conference. He said Letta had understood that the arrival of hundreds of migrants in recent weeks had overloaded Malta's migrant-reception facilities. Leading international human rights organizations on Wednesday also applauded Italy's decision to end the deadlock. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Italian Red Cross praised Rome's green light to accept the migrants. The UNHCR expressed ''appreciation'' for the humanitarian value of Italy's decision and stressed the importance of ''cooperation and coordination among states'' in rescuing and receiving migrants ''in need of international protection''. The IOM also expressed satisfaction for the end of the migrants' ordeal. The Sudanese and Eritrean migrants included 81 men, 20 women, four of whom are pregnant, and a five-month-old baby. In such a situation, the IOM said, the priority is guaranteeing the security and health of immigrants. The Italian Red Cross deployed 10 volunteers at the Sicilian port of Siracusa to help the migrants, who started arriving early on Wednesday afternoon on tax police cutters carrying them from the tanker. The organization's president Francesco Rocca thanked the Italian government for its decision to welcome the migrants refused by Malta. Now Europe should discuss a common strategy to welcome migrants "so that we don't have to similar episodes anymore," Rocca said. Southern Italy, in particular the tiny island of Lampedusa off Sicily, deals with huge migration flows every summer as throngs of migrants who survive the dangerous sea crossing from North Africa continue to arrive daily. The Sicilian island, filled with tourists in this season, continues to deal with the emergency situation. Over 800 migrants are currently jammed into the designated 250 places at the Imbriacola reception center for immigrants, and the number continues to grow as authorities struggle to move immigrants to centers in other cities. EU border agency Frontex said that 1,300 migrants had landed in southern Italian in one week and that in the first seven months of 2013 some 12,000 had made the journey. Though the number of immigrants has decreased from 2011 - when 50,000 migrants landed in the first seven months of the year - arrivals are 75% more than last year.

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