MILAN/BERLIN, July 15 (Reuters) - Germany will take 50 of 450 migrants Italy helped to rescue from an overcrowded boat in the Mediterranean on Saturday, the German government said, following an Italian plea for EU states to share responsibility.
France and Malta have already agreed to take 50 migrants each after two ships - one operated by EU border agency Frontex and a vessel owned by Italy’s tax police - picked up the migrants on Saturday near the Italian island of Linosa, more than 100 nautical miles of Malta.
Other EU countries were set to follow after Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte sent letters to the heads of state and government of the 27 other EU members asking them to share responsibility with Rome for the migrants, who had sailed from Libya.
“Germany and Italy have agreed that, in view of the ongoing talks on closer bilateral cooperation on asylum, Germany is ready to accept 50 people in this case,” the German government spokeswoman said on Sunday.
Malta had rejected pressure from Rome on Friday to rescue them, but said on Saturday it was ready to host 50 asylum seekers. France will take another 50, Conte said in a message posted on his Facebook profile.
Conte said Italy would host some of the rescued people if other countries also agreed to share the burden.
The Czech Republic, however, refused the request.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis tweeted that the country would not accept any of the 450 asylum seekers.
Babis called the Italian approach a “road to hell” and reiterated his stance that boats should be stopped and turned back and that migrants should be helped in their countries instead of being let into the European Union.
Before other EU members agreed to accept some of the migrants, Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who is leading a high-profile campaign to ban humanitarian rescue ships from Italian ports, had said on Saturday that the migrants could be sent back to Libya.
Under international law, refugees cannot be returned to a place where their lives are in danger. Both the United Nations and EU have ruled that Libya is not safe.
A spokesman for Libya’s coastguard said Libya would not take in migrants from other countries.
“No, we will not accept any illegal migrants after they are rescued by rescue ships...,” the spokesman , Ayob Qassem, told Reuters on Saturday. (Reporting by Francesca Landini, additional reporting by Paul Carrel in Berlin, Robert Muller in Prague, Aidan Lewis in Tunis, Ahmed Elumami in Tripoli Editing by Susan Fenton)