Holland refuses Italian request to accept migrants

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The Netherlands refused an Italian request to take 47 migrants from a humanitarian ship blocked from Italian ports, saying there was a need to distinguish between genuine refugees and economic migrants.

The Sea Watch 3, run by a German humanitarian group and flying a Dutch flag, rescued the migrants from a rubber boat off Libya more than a week ago. Since then it has been buffeted by high winds and waves.

Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio, leader of the 5-Star Movement, said the ship should either go to France, which he accuses of shirking its responsibilities on the migrant influx or to the Netherlands.

The Dutch Justice and Security Ministry, which oversees immigration policy, said it would not take any migrants from Sea Watch until there was a long-term agreement on how to distinguish refugees from economic migrants.

“Those who are not entitled to international protection need to be sent back immediately on arrival at European borders,” it said in a statement.

“Without a clear perspective for a structural solution, the Netherlands will not participate in ad hoc measures for disembarkation.”

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s office said in a statement Rome would refer the matter to the European Court of Human Rights, reiterating government had no intention of allowing the boat to dock in Italy.

As soon as Dutch responsibility was ascertained, it would help open up a “human corridor” to let migrants move to the Netherlands. Conte promised to provide supplies and medical care if needed to the NGO vessel moored off the Sicilian coast.

It is the second time in a month Sea Watch has been stranded at sea with rescued migrants and no safe port. The previous stand-off ended after 19 days and an agreement among eight EU countries, including Italy, to take in migrants.

The Netherlands, which took in hundreds of thousands of migrants in the 1960s and 1970s to work as labourers, has one of the tightest immigration policies in Europe following a public backlash.

An Italian statement last week questioned why Sea Watch decided to brave stormy waters and head to Italy, rather than take migrants to nearby Tunisia. “Did the Sea Watch aim to rescue people or to create an international incident?”