Migrants wait to disembark from the Italian coast guard vessel Diciotti at the port of Catania, Italy, on Wednesday. Picture : Antonio Parrinello/Reuters

Italy’s government threatened to withhold next year’s contributions to the EU budget if Brussels failed to resolve a stand-off over the fate of immigrants stranded for four days in an Italian port.
The around 150 mostly Eritrean migrants are being held in the port of Catania on board the Diciotti, an Italian ship that rescued them in the Mediterranean nine days ago.

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who heads the anti-immigrant League party, has said he will not let them disembark until other EU states reach agreement on taking them in - prompting a criminal investigation into whether they are being held against their will.

Davide Faraone, a lawmaker in the opposition Democratic Party, who has been on the Diciotti to monitor conditions, said the migrants had refused their breakfast and were beginning a hunger strike.

Envoys from about a dozen member states - excluding the Eastern states who refuse to accept migrants - were meeting in Brussels yesterday to discuss the situation.

Salvini’s government ally, Deputy Prime Minister Luigi di Maio, who leads the 5-Star Movement, late on Thursday said his party would not approve next year’s EU funding if there was no action soon. He repeated his threat yesterday.

“The soft line does not work; the hard line will be to withhold funds if they don’t listen to us,” Di Maio said.

Rejecting the Italian threats as unhelpful, the European Commission said a solution for the Diciotti was its “priority”.

“Unconstructive comments, let alone threats will not get us any closer to a solution,” said spokesperson Alexander Win yesterday.

Italy has been on the front line of Europe’s refugee crisis, seeing more than 650000 migrants land on its shores since 2014, though numbers have fallen dramatically this year.

A campaign promise to further curtail arrivals helped propel 5-Star and the league into office in June. - Reuters