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Last Updated: Sunday, 18 July, 2004, 01:17 GMT 02:17 UK
Ship migrants denied Italy asylum
Migrants on the boat
The migrants remained at sea for weeks
Thirty-seven Africans who were taken to Sicily by a German charity earlier this week have been denied asylum in Italy.

The Italian authorities said requests were rejected as the asylum-seekers did not come from Sudan as they claimed, but from Nigeria, Chad and Niger.

They said 14 would be deported shortly, while some of the others could stay temporarily on humanitarian grounds.

Meanwhile, members of German charity, Cap Anamur, who picked up the migrants at sea, were released from custody.

The charity's Elias Bierdel, the ship's captain Stefan Schmidt and a crew member had been arrested, when the ship docked last Monday, on suspicion of aiding and abetting illegal immigration.

The German aid group claimed the Africans were rescued from a leaking dinghy in the Mediterranean Sea late last month.

The charity's ship - also called Cap Anamur - was stranded at sea for three weeks before Italy allowed it to dock in Sicily where it was immediately seized by the authorities.

During the standoff, it was understood the immigrants were fleeing the conflict in Sudan.

Diplomatic spat

"The 37 requests have been rejected because the asylum-seekers do not come from Sudan as they claimed," an interior ministry spokesman was quoted by AFP news agency as saying.

He said 30 were found to be from Nigeria, six from Ghana and one from Niger.

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

Meanwhile, the three members of Cap Anamur flew out of the country on Saturday after their release from a Sicilian prison.

In what threatened to turn into a diplomatic incident with Germany, the Italian authorities held them on suspicion of aiding and abetting illegal immigration.

Reuters news agency reported that they still faced trial, and the ship remained impounded.

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.

The group has rescued tens of thousands of refugees at sea since it began helping Vietnam's boat people two decades ago.

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