Page last updated at 11:29 GMT, Monday, 20 April 2009 12:29 UK

Italy takes in stranded migrants

Italian police escort one of the migrants on arrival in Porto Empedocle (20 April 2009)
Media reports said the migrants were likely to be taken to southern Sicily

Italian authorities have begun bringing ashore 140 migrants who were stranded on a ship in the Mediterranean Sea, ending a four-day stand-off with Malta.

A Turkish cargo vessel rescued the migrants on Thursday from two boats off the Italian island of Lampedusa.

But Italy maintained they were rescued in an area which fell under Malta's responsibility.

Italy's government said the decision on Sunday to accept the refugees had been taken for "humanitarian reasons".

Each year, thousands of African migrants try to enter the European Union illegally by sea via Italy. Often their boats capsize or get stranded, and nearby fishing boats, cargo vessels or military ships rescue them.

EU intervention

On Monday morning, the first group of about 30 migrants were escorted off the MV Pinar at Porto Empedocle in southern Sicily and put onto buses for processing.

Migrants on board the MV Pinar E (19 April 2009)
The migrants were picked up off Italy's coast by the MV Pinar on Thursday

A group of 20 migrants with health problems were evacuated to Lampedusa on Sunday. The remaining refugees were to be brought ashore later on Monday.

Italy's foreign ministry said it had agreed to take them in after the intervention of European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who spoke with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his Maltese counterpart, Lawrence Gonzi.

The decision was made "exclusively in consideration of the painful humanitarian emergency aboard the cargo ship" and Italy's acceptance of the migrants "must not in any way be understood as a precedent nor as a recognition of Malta's reasons" for refusing them, the ministry said in a statement.

"Malta should have taken them in," Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told state television.

"[Its] government has not complied with a European request from Commission President Barroso to respect the rules of search and rescue at sea."

Malta had insisted that the MV Pinar take the migrants to Lampedusa, where Italy has a detention centre for asylum seekers and illegal migrants, because it was the nearest port to where the stricken boats were found.

During the stand-off, the MV Pinar was anchored about 40km (25 miles) south-west of the small island.

Migration routes to Europe

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