Germany agrees to take share of 450 migrants awaiting fate on ships off Italy

Abby Young-Powell
The migrants were picked up near the Italian island of Linosa, close to Malta, having sailed from Libya in a single wooden vessel - REUTERS

Germany has agreed to take 50 of 450 migrants rescued from an overcrowded boat in the Mediterranean following a plea from Italy for EU states to share responsibility.

Sunday's show of goodwill came after France and Malta had already agreed to take 50 migrants each in response to letters sent to the governments of the 27 other EU members by Giuseppe Conte, the Italian prime minister, asking them to share responsibility with Rome.

It also came as Horst Seehofer, the German interior minister, confirmed that Bavarian state police would be given the power to patrol the state's southern border with Austria as a part of a series of new measures aimed at clamping down on migrant arrivals. 

Mr Seehofer said on Sunday that Bavarian police would be able to conduct checks at the Austrian border “at the request or with the consent of federal police,” after it was questioned whether it was legal for such power to be granted to them. 

The number of people crossing the German-Austrian border illegally has dropped sharply since a dramatic influx of migrants in 2015. However, with the Bavarian regional elections in October, Mr Seehofer’s Christian Social Union (CSU), which governs in Bavaria, is under pressure to take a hard line on migration. 

Earlier this month Mr Seehofer threatened to resign if chancellor Angela Merkel failed to come up with a European solution, or to allow him to implement tougher border controls.

The migrants were saved by two ships, one operated by EU border agency Frontex and one owned by Italy's tax police Credit:  JORGE GUERRERO/ AFP

Following the row, which threatened to tear apart the coalition government, Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and her Bavarian counterparts reached an agreement on how to control migration at the German-Austrian border. 

Germany is also under pressure to share the burden of accepting and hosting new migrant arrivals from outside the bloc, as was pledged at an EU summit in Brussels last month.

In light of the talks, the German government on Sunday agreed to take in its migrants who were picked up near the Italian island of Linosa, close to Malta, having sailed from Libya in a single wooden vessel. 

"Germany and Italy have agreed that, in view of the ongoing talks on closer bilateral cooperation on asylum, Germany is ready to accept 50 people in this case," a German government spokeswoman said on Sunday.

Immigrant relations map migrant immigration Europe Italy

Mr Conte said his country would help the migrants, but needed other members of the EU to share the burden.  

“This is the solidarity and responsibility that we have always asked of Europe and now, after the results obtained at the last European Council, they are beginning to become reality,” Mr Conte wrote in a Facebook post on Sunday afternoon.

"Let's continue on this path with firmness and respect for human rights," he added. However the Czech Republic refused his request and Andrej Babis, the prime minister, tweeted that the approach was the "road to hell". 

Boats should instead be stopped and turned back, he said, and migrants should be helped in their own countries.

The migrants were saved by two ships, one operated by EU border agency Frontex and one owned by Italy's tax police. 

As they awaited to learn their destiny, another day's worth of food and beverages was sent to the ships on Sunday.

By late afternoon, passengers suffering from dehydration, pregnant women and some babies, including a newborn a few days old, had been taken ashore in Pozzallo.

Italian media said a woman weighing 35 kilos (77 pounds) after months of malnourishment in Libya was among them.

Sky TG24 TV reported that many of the rescued passengers originally are from Eritrea.