Italian protesters have turned up at a Sicilian port with handfuls of arancini to welcome a group of migrants aboard a coastguard ship awaiting disembarkment in Catania.
The beloved Sicilian snack, made up of a deep-fried rice ball filled with ragu sauce and cheese, has become a symbol of hospitality and goodwill toward the stranded migrants.
The spontaneous campaign was spearheaded yesterday by a group of artists and activists from Catania who wanted to show their dismay against hardline interior minister Matteo Salvini, who refused to allow the 177 migrants off the Diciotti coastguard since its arrival on Monday.
In protest, supporters began a social media campaign (#PORTOunArancino and #unArancinoPerAccogliere) and showed up at the port last night with 177 arancini — one for each passenger.
On Wednesday, 29 passengers — unaccompanied minors — were allowed to get off the ship.
"The city of Catania and its fellow citizens share the logic of hospitality, without any political motivation ... part of the citizenship of Catania does not agree with the presence of 177 human beings locked up on a ship," explained Silvio Laviano, one of the organizers, told Italian paper, Repubblica.
The migrants were rescued from an overcrowded boat a week ago following a row with Malta.
Rome insisted that Malta should take the group because the boat first passed through its search-and-rescue area, but Valletta refused, claiming the people wanted to reach Italy.
Salvini then demanded sanctions be imposed on the island.
Italian politician Giuseppe Civati was also present in Catania. That evening, a white minibus transferred the first 27 minors to the reception centers. The political battle, meanwhile, continues.
There 147 people remain on the ship and supplies have been delivered to passengers via crane.
The protest at the port continued on Thursday.