Hundreds of migrants aboard two border patrol ships were allowed to disembark in the Sicilian port of Pozzallo early Monday after a half dozen European countries promised to take in some of them, rather than have Italy process their asylum claims alone.
After two days at sea and a very long night, the 450 migrants aboard the Italian ship Monte Sperone and the British naval vessel Protector finally disembarked at dawn. They had been picked up from an overcrowded boat that left Libya on Friday. Among them were 128 unaccompanied minors.
The ships, one operated by EU border agency Frontex and the other by Italy's tax police, were given permission to bring the mainly Eritrean and Somali migrants into port only after other European Union countries agreed to accept more than half of them, ending a diplomatic standoff that had left them stuck at sea.
Roberto Ammatuna, the mayor of Pozzallo, said he does not expect that the migrants can be moved for a few days. He said many are suffering from scabies and that there are many minors. He said it may be necessary to wait a few more days before they are transferred to other European countries or other holding centers in Italy.
As the migrants disembarked, at least eight suspected people-smugglers were driven away in police cars.
The office of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said, "Today we can say that for the first time migrants are landing in Europe" after France, Malta, Germany, Spain and Portugal each agreed to take in 50 of the 450 migrants who landed at Pozzallo."
Interior minister Matteo Salvini, who initially closed Italy's ports to the migrants, said "Italy is no longer Europe's refugee camp; it is a political victory," adding that "firmness and consistency pay off." He stressed the need for Libya to be recognized as a safe port for migrants.
Speaking in Moscow where he attended the World Cup soccer final, Salvini said Italy would discuss with its European partners the need to legitimately rescue, save and assist everyone, but then to take them back to where they left from.
The European Commission said it shared the sense of urgency voiced in a letter on migrants from Prime Minister Conte to European Council President Donald Tusk and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. The commission also welcomed the six EU member states that have decided to take in some of the migrants.