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Italy refugee ship standoff ends as third parties agree to take them in

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Refugees are seen on the deck of the Italian Coast Guard vessel “Diciotti” in the Sicilian port of Catania, Italy, on August 23, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

Italy has finally allowed all the 150 refugees who had been stranded on an Italian coast guard ship to disembark following a decision by two European countries and the Italian Catholic Church to take them in.

The Italian hard-line, anti-refugee government had been refusing to allow the refugees — most of them from Eritrea — to leave the ship and enter the country for five days.

That initial refusal to allow the asylum seekers off the vessel prompted calls from the United Nations (UN) on the European Union (EU) to “urgently” take in some of the refugees on board Diciotti.

The only county that primarily offered help from inside the EU, however, was Ireland, which said late on Saturday evening that it would take in 20-25 of the refugees, according to Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini.

Later, Albania also offered to accept 20 of the refugees.

The rest of the refugees on board the ship would be housed by Italy’s Catholic Church “at zero cost” to the Italian taxpayer, Slavini told at a rally in Pinzolo in northern Italy on Saturday evening.

He said they would be taken in “by bishops who are opening their doors, their hearts, and their wallets.”

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini (C) (photo by AFP)

In the early hours of Sunday, the refugees finally left the ship to be taken to a reception center in the Sicilian city of Messina. From the center, they will be transported to the Church dioceses as well as Ireland and Albania.

Italian interior minister under investigation

The Italian interior minister, meanwhile, announced that he had been placed under investigation by a Sicilian prosecutor for abuse of office by refusing to allow the refugees to disembark.

The prosecutor has now opened an inquiry into possible illegal confinement, illegal arrest, and abuse of power against Salvini over his refusal to allow the refugees off the vessel.

The Italian interior minister said, “Being investigated for defending the rights of Italians is a disgrace.”

He has taken a tough stance on refugees since taking office on June 1.

The Italian government has been cracking down on humanitarian groups that rescue refugees in the Mediterranean Sea and that ferry the asylum seekers to Italian ports.

Under EU rules, refugees must seek asylum where they arrive, but Rome has increasingly banned rescue vessels from docking.

Over 650,000 refugees have reached Italian shores since 2014. Though the numbers fell sharply last year, the government says it still will not let any rescue ships dock unless the asylum seekers are shared out around the EU.

Earlier on Saturday, thousands of protesters gathered in front of the ship to call for the disembarkation of the refugees, who had been on board since leaving Libya at least 10 days earlier.

Clashes also erupted between the demonstrators and riot police, which caused some injuries.

Many of the refugees are fleeing conflict zones in the Middle East and Africa.

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