POZZALLO, Sicily – Migrants aboard two border patrol ships disembarked in a Sicilian port Monday after a half-dozen European countries promised to take some of them in rather than leave Italy alone to process their asylum claims.
Italy's hard-line, anti-migrant government had kept the two military ships from docking at Pozzallo for two days until other countries stepped up.
Early Monday, the ships came into port and disembarked their passengers, who were seen being screened at dawn. The women and children had already come ashore.
Doctors at the scene said one of the men was hospitalized in critical condition with pneumonia, while the others were in generally good health but suffering from scabies.
On Sunday, Germany, Spain and Portugal each agreed to respectively accept 50 of the migrants, following similar offers by France and Malta.
But not everyone agreed. The Czech Republic rebuffed the appeal and called the distribution plan a "road to hell."
Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who has spearheaded Italy's tough line on migration, said the ultimate goal is for Libya to be considered a safe haven for migrants to be returned, and for asylum bids to be considered in migrants' home countries.
He said the European Union has a "bipolar" relationship with Libya, providing training and boats to beef up its coast guard, but then refusing to consider it a safe port where migrants can be brought back.
"What is prohibited today can be normalized tomorrow," he said of Libya's status as a safe haven. "The European Union should convince itself that this is the only way to get out of this problem."
International law requires those rescued at sea to be brought to a safe port; humanitarian groups say Libya hardly constitutes that, given widespread torture and abuse reported by migrants in Libyan detention centers.