Italy's government wants other European Union countries to commit to taking in some 135 migrants rescued overnight before it allows their disembarkation on Italian shores.
The migrants are currently on the Italian coastguard vessel
Gregoretti, according to the European Commission.
They were first picked up on Thursday, some of them with the help of
an Italian fishing boat, the Adnkronos news agency said.
Interior minister and deputy premier Matteo Salvini said Friday that
he "will not authorize any disembarkation until a concrete commitment
comes from Europe to take in all the migrants aboard the ship."
Salvini has often threatened to keep migrants at sea as a way of
pressuring EU partners to accept burden-sharing deals.
Italy, along with Malta, Greece and Spain, has handled the lion's
share of migrants arriving in the EU via the Mediterranean in recent
years - a state of affairs that these countries deem unacceptable.
The commission confirmed Friday that it had received a request from
Italy to help facilitate the disembarkation of the rescued people.
The EU executive will now make contact with member states,
spokeswoman Natasha Bertraud told dpa.
"Let's see if words are followed by facts," Salvini wrote on Twitter,
indicating that he is braced for another showdown.
The issue of migrants rescued at sea has long been a cause of
friction between EU capitals.
Fresh efforts to find a long-term
solution to distributing rescued people throughout the bloc have come
to nothing in the past couple of weeks.
The commission typically acts as a broker, sounding out which member
states are willing to take in rescued migrants.
Salvini usually denies disembarkation rights to charity vessels, but
it is highly unusual for him to apply the same tactics to an Italian
On Thursday, there was a shipwreck off the coast of Libya in which
around 150 people are presumed to have died and 147 were rescued, UN
Refugee Agency (UNHCR) spokesman Charlie Yaxley said on Twitter.
"That would make this the largest shipwreck of 2019. This tragedy has
to now lead to action," Yaxley said, calling for more sea rescue
boats in the Mediterranean.
The accident "is a terrible reminder of the risks still faced by
those making this dangerous journey to Europe," the commission said
Friday in a joint statement from foreign policy chief Federica
Mogherini and others.
Also on Friday, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi
said: "Restoring rescue at sea, an end to refugee and migrant
detention in Libya, increasing safe pathways out of Libya must happen
now before it is too late for many more desperate people."
A spokesman for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres added that some
of the survivors rescued by the Libyan coastguard have reportedly
been placed in the Tajoura migrant detention centre, which is close
to a military facility and was hit by an airstrike on July 2 that
resulted in more than 50 deaths.
"Libya is not a safe country of asylum and that refugees must be
treated with dignity and respect, and in accordance with
international law," the spokesman said.
Separately, a total of 67 migrants were rescued off Malta on Friday,
the Armed Forces of Malta said, in the second Maltese rescue in two
According to Alarm Phone, a support group for migrants in distress,
the migrants said they had spent more than 40 hours at sea and had
run out of water.
The rescue came a day after another 76 migrants landed on the
Rescued migrants sit on the coast of Khoms, some 100 kilometres from Tripoli