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Last Updated: Monday, 12 July, 2004, 13:41 GMT 14:41 UK
African migrants land in Italy
Migrants on the boat
The migrants remained at sea for weeks
A group of 37 African migrants stranded for weeks on an aid ship off Italy's coast have been allowed to disembark, officials say.

The group - which had been threatening to jump overboard - came ashore on Monday morning and were taken to a refugee centre in southern Sicily.

"They left the boat this morning," an Italian interior ministry representative told BBC News Online.

"From what we can gather, they are in a decent state," he said.

The BBC's David Willey in Rome says their plight has touched the Italian public.

The German-registered Cap Anamur carrying the migrants had floated in international waters for weeks.

Plea for help

Italy had refused the captain permission to land, saying the refugees should be put ashore in Malta, as the ship had passed through Maltese waters.

The 36 Sudanese and another African were rescued from a leaking dinghy by a German aid group in the Mediterranean Sea late last month.

I went through hell to reach Italy
Mamadou Saliou 'Billy' Diallo

The Sudanese say they are fleeing the Darfur region, where Arab militias are accused of "ethnic cleansing".

The Italian interior ministry said the ship's captain radioed for help on Sunday morning, signalling "he was no longer able to guarantee the control of the ship and the command of the crew" and was concerned about the well-being of the migrants.

He may now face investigation by local authorities for aiding and abetting illegal immigration, our correspondent says.

The migrants have now been taken to a refugee centre near Porto Empedocle, the interior ministry said.

"They will be given fresh clothes and receive full medical examinations at the centre," an official said.

UN pressure

The United Nations refugee agency, who had urged Italy to let the African migrants disembark on humanitarian grounds, welcomed the decision.

"We are pleased that the Italian government decided to allow the refugees to land," Laura Boldrini, spokesperson for the UN agency, told reporters.

The migrants will now have the opportunity to apply for political asylum in either Germany or Italy, she said.

But Germany said the refugees could not claim asylum in Germany.

"An asylum application in Germany requires one to have reached German territory," an interior ministry spokesman said.

Italy's long and porous coastline mean it is often a target for immigrants seeking an entry-point into Europe.

The Cap Anamur organisation says it is dedicated to helping refugees in distress at sea.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Guto Harri
"The Italian coastline is a magnet for impoverished illegal immigrants"



SEE ALSO:
Italy urged to let migrants land
09 Jul 04  |  Europe
Migrant headache dogs Italy
01 Jul 03  |  Europe
Italy's 'little Senegal'
19 Apr 04  |  Africa


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