Italy's interior minister Matteo Salvini under probe for refusing Eritrean migrants permission to disembark on Catania port

Rome: Sicilian prosecutors are investigating Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini over his refusal to allow migrants off a coastguard vessel.

The Diciotti docked in the Sicilian port of Catania on Monday.

The Italian government is refusing to most of the migrants disembark until a solution is reached regarding their relocation with other European states.

Italy interior minister Matteo Salvini. Reuters

Italy interior minister Matteo Salvini. Reuters

Prosecutors have now opened an inquiry into possible illegal confinement, illegal arrest, and abuse of power, BBC reported on Sunday.

Salvini responded to the news by shrugging of the threat, saying those still on board would be allowed off "in the coming hours". According to Salvini, they would be taken in "by bishops who are opening their doors, their hearts and their wallets".

So far only small groups have been allowed in, including unaccompanied children and the sick, two of whom are said to have tuberculosis.

The fate of the more than 100 migrants, most of whom are Eritrean, has prompted local protests throughout the week and attracted international attention.

The United Nations (UN) appealed for European Union (EU) members to "urgently" offer relocation places to the migrants on Saturday, a day after a meeting of 10 EU envoys in Brussels failed to provide a solution.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in a statement that Europe has recognised "a fundamental and legal obligation" to help "people fleeing war, violence and persecution" throughout its history.

"The time has come to end the back-and-forth that has seen countries competing in a race to the bottom on who can take the least responsibility for people rescued at sea," he said.

"It is dangerous and immoral to put the lives of refugees and asylum-seekers at risk while states engage in a political tug-of-war on long-term solutions."

Under EU rules, people must seek asylum where they arrive, but Italy has increasingly barred boats from docking. Salvini refused the vessel permission to disembark until the EU agreed to distribute the migrants among other countries.

He has maintained they are working to achieve a "positive and concrete solution" that was not a "burden" on Italian citizens. "I want to say that the dozens of complaints, insults and threats levelled at give me more and more strength to go on, and for me are badges of honour on my chest," he said of criticism.

Sixteen people were allowed to disembark on Saturday on doctors' orders after inspectors from the Italian Healthy Ministry and the Red Cross went on board the vessel.

Earlier this week 27 unaccompanied minors and 13 people in need of urgent medical help were also allowed to get off.

Some of those left onboard are reported to be refusing food in protest.

Since 2014, more than 640,000 migrants have landed on Italy's shores. Although many have since left for other countries, some remain.

The UN says that more than 1,600 people have lost their lives trying to cross into Europe in 2018, despite overall numbers being down.

In July, 450 migrants were allowed to disembark in Sicily once France, Germany, Malta, Portugal and Spain had each agreed to take 50 migrants each.

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Updated Date: Aug 26, 2018 15:46:27 IST

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