Italy agrees to take in some of 49 migrants stranded at sea for weeks

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ROME, Jan. 10 (Xinhua) -- The Italian government has agreed to take in some of the 49 migrants and asylum seekers who had been declined to disembark anywhere in Europe since they were rescued in the Mediterranean before Christmas, local media reported Thursday.

According to Italian news agency ANSA, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and deputy prime ministers Luigi Di Maio and Matteo Salvini ironed out their differences and agreed to take in a few women, children and their male relatives during a late-night summit that lasted from 11:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m.

The 49 rescued men, women and children on two German NGO vessels, Sea Watch and Sea Eye, were rescued in the waters off Libya before Christmas and had been sailing in the Mediterranean ever since, with no country willing to let them dock.

The odyssey of the two NGO vessels caused an outcry among some Italian lawmakers, including within the ruling majority, causing tensions between the two coalition members, the rightwing anti-immigrant League and the populist Five Star Movement.

Salvini, who also serves as interior minister and leads the League party, has banned vessels carrying rescued migrants from Italy's ports, and until late last night, had been staunchly opposed to allowing any migrants from the two German NGO ships into the country.

The number of those being let into Italy is still unclear.

On Wednesday, the Council of Europe (CoE) announced that eight European countries including Italy had agreed to take in some of the 49 migrants. As a result, the tiny island nation of Malta allowed them to disembark on its shores.

"We welcome the solidarity of France, Germany, Ireland, Portugal, Romania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Italy and the support of the EU, enabling those on board the Sea Watch and Sea Eye to disembark safely in Malta," CoE spokesperson Daniel Holtgen tweeted Wednesday.

Also on Thursday, 51 asylum seekers landed at the tiny seaside village of Torre Melissa in the heel of Italy's boot facing the Ionian Sea, which lies between Italy and Greece, the local mayor told Sky TG24 in a televised interview.

They had been traveling on a 10-meter sailboat which capsized near the shore overnight, Mayor Gino Murgi said. Their screams woke up the locals, who flocked to the shore and started trying to save them, he recounted.

"The scene was blood-curdling," said Murgi, describing the "terrible" screams of the women who were crying for help children trapped in the wrecked boat.

Murgi said that five women and four children were hospitalized and the rest taken to a local migrant reception center. Two men have been arrested for people smuggling. According to Murgi, the migrants are all Kurdish and the boat "probably" left from Greece.

A total of 116,674 people reached Europe via the Mediterranean in 2018, a return to pre-2014 levels. As well, one life was lost for every 50 people who attempted the journey, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said in a statement on Thursday. Enditem

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