Thirteen sick migrants on Saturday left the Italian rescue ship docked for five days in a Sicilian port and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said he was working on a “positive solution” for the remaining 137 people on board.
Seven women and six men were ordered off the boat by doctors after a check-up carried out at around midday.
They finally left the boat one-by-one some six hours later, stepping down a flight of steps to touch dry land for the first time since leaving Libya at least 10 days ago. They were taken by ambulance to Catania’s Garibaldi hospital.
The doctors had recommended all 11 women on board be disembarked, but four refused to leave their partners on board.
Italian media reported that among the migrants who left the boat there were three cases of suspected tuberculosis and two of suspected pneumonia. Medical officials on the spot did not confirm this.
The migrants, mainly from Eritrea, have been stranded in the port of Catania since Monday because the Italian government is refusing to let them off the boat until other European Union states agree to take some of them in.
Stefano Principato, a Red Cross representative, said the health of most of the migrants still on board “isn’t particularly critical,” adding their problems “are more psychological than physical.”
Earlier this week, Italy let 27 unaccompanied minors leave the vessel.
The mostly young men now on board shelter from the sun under a large green tarpaulin that covers around half the deck, with clothes attached to it hanging out to dry. Some occasionally wave to reporters gathered at the port.
Around 200 protesters gathered at the Catania port on Saturday, some waving flags of left-wing movements and parties, calling for the migrants to be allowed to disembark.
Where to go
Hardline interior minister Matteo Salvini has barred the migrants from disembarking unless he's been reassured they'll be relocated elsewhere. So far, Ireland and Albania said they were open to accept at least 20 migrants each.
The United Nations called on Saturday for reason from all sides after a meeting of envoys from 10 EU states in Brussels a day earlier failed to break the deadlock.
“Frightened people who may be in need of international protection should not be caught in the maelstrom of politics,” the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said in a statement.
It appealed to EU member states to “urgently” offer relocation places to the rescued people, in line with an agreement at an EU summit in June, and in the meantime urged Italy to allow “the immediate disembarkation of those on board.”