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Four migrants held on suspicion of people trafficking

Four migrants held on suspicion of people trafficking

Photo: AFP

Italian police in Sicily on Monday said they detained four people-trafficking suspects who were among 134 rescued migrants allowed off a coastguard ship at the port of Catania after being stranded on board the vessel for ten days amid a diplomatic standoff.

Three of the suspects are Egyptian citizens and one is Bangladeshi. They are accused of criminal association aimed at people smuggling, abetting illegal immigration and procuring illegal entry, according to investigators.

Italy's hardline interior minister Matteo Salvini had refused to allow the migrants to come ashore in Catania unless "the European Union stepped in" and Sicilian prosecutors said Saturday they had put Salvini under investigation for possible illegal detention and kidnapping.

Following the announcement of the formal probe, Salvini late on Saturday finally gave permission for the 134 migrants aboard the Diciotti to disembark. Italy's populist government announced that Albania would take 20 of the migrants, while Ireland would welcome 25 of them. The Italian church said it would take in the rest to “put an end to this dramatic situation and sufferance”, said a spokesman for the Episcopal Conference of Italy.

Salvini earlier allowed a group of 27 children travelling alone to disembark, and on Saturday doctors identified 16 people in need of immediate medical care, who were also allowed to leave the Diciotti before the other remaining migrants on board.

Two of the migrants had possible symptoms of tuberculosis and one appeared to have pneumonia, according to doctors.

The migrants who disembarked in Catania without apparent health problems were transferred to a holding centre in the Sicilian port city of Messina. Seven of the women migrants are allegedly victims of sexual violence, according to police.