Italy allows scores of migrants to disembark at Lampedusa

By giving the vessel permission to dock, the Italian government has undone 14 months of anti-migrant policy

The Ocean Viking rescue ship sails off the coast of the island of Lampedusa in the Mediterranean Sea on September 15, 2019, with in foreground the "Porta di Lampedusa", known as "The door of Europe", a monument to the migrants who have died in the Mediterranean, located at the point where Europe is the closest to Africa. Italy on September 14 agreed to allow rescue ship Ocean Viking to disembark 82 migrants on the southern island of Lampedusa after six days at sea following a European deal to distribute them. - Italy OUT
 / AFP / Alessandro SERRANO

Italy allowed migrant rescue ship, the Ocean Viking, to dock in Lampedusa in  a stark break with the previous government's anti-migrant policy.

Eighty-two migrants disembarked at the port. It was the first time Italy permitted such a speedy disembarkation of migrants in 14 months.

"The Ocean Viking just received instructions from the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre of Rome to proceed to Lampedusa," SOS Mediterranee, which operates the migrant rescue vessel, wrote in a tweet.

It took Italian officials six days to secure guarantees from its EU partners that not all of the migrants would stay in Italy.

The country's new government, a coalition between the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), is grappling to find a solution to the country's migrant crisis.

The country’s former interior minister Matteo Salvini, who was ousted from power during frantic political manoeuvres by his opposition in recent weeks, had surged in opinion polls by grandstanding on the issue.

Mr Salvini was only blocked from becoming prime minister when his former coalition allies, the M5S, partnered with the PD to stop a snap election.

The new government must now depoliticise the issue of migrants if it is to indefinitely neutralise the threat from Mr Salvini's far-right League party.

Italian newspaper La Repubblica reported on Saturday evening that Germany, France, Portugal and Luxembourg would each take their share of the migrants, along with Italy.

On September 23 officials from Italy and Malta, which lie on the frontlines of Europe's migrant crisis, will meet their counterparts from Germany and France in Valletta to discuss a system for the automatic distribution of migrants arriving on the continent.

French interior minister Christophe Castaner said there had been an agreement to divide the migrants from the Ocean Viking in this instance.

"We now need to agree on a genuine temporary European mechanism," Castaner said.

As a clear sign of how the thorny problem remains unsolved, Mr Salvini hit back at the news of the migrants' arrival.

"Here we go, ports open without limits," Mr Salvini tweeted in response to the announcement.

"The new government is reopening the ports, Italy returns to being the refugee camp of Europe. Abusive ministers who hate Italians," he wrote.