The Latest: 31 migrants taken off Italian NGO rescue ship

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September 02, 2019 - 10:41 am

Migrants wait at the Lampedusa island harbor, Italy, Monday, Sept. 2, 2019. Italy's interior minister is vowing to make a charity boat with some 100 rescued migrants aboard pay dearly for docking in Sicily in defiance of a government ban. Matteo Salvini, who leads the anti-migrant League party, tweeted the warning on Monday after the Eleonore entered Italian waters without permission and sailed toward a Sicilian port, where it was seized by Italian authorities. (Elio Desiderio/ANSA via AP)

THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) — The Latest on the influx of migrants into Europe (all times local):

5:40 p.m.

Thirty-one migrants, stuck aboard an Italian rescue ship, are being allowed off at Lampedusa island near Sicily.

The humanitarian group Mediterranea Saving Humans has tweeted that the Italian coast guard approved disembarkation from the Mare Jonio for health reasons.

On Sunday evening, three other migrants on the Mare Jonio, including a woman so weak that she was put on a stretcher, were taken to Lampedusa.

The charity group said several migrants had started refusing to drink or eat to protest Italy's docking refusal to Mare Jonio.

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini contends charity boats effectively help human traffickers, who launch unseaworthy vessels crowded with migrants from their base in Libya. He refuses to let these rescue boats enter Italian waters or dock.

The migrants said six companions died before Mare Jonio rescued the survivors several days ago.

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4:25 p.m.

German officials say they hope a quick solution will be found for a rescue ship with 100 migrants on board that's docked in Sicily, defying an Italian government ban.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Adebahr said Monday that Germany is in touch with Italian authorities and the German captain of the Eleonore.

Adebahr told reporters in Berlin that "a good and quick solution needs to be found for this case too," a reference to past deals between European countries to distribute migrants rescued at sea.

Interior Ministry spokesman Steve Alter said Germany wants to avoid aid ships with migrants on board being kept waiting at sea for days. He said Germany, France, Finland, Malta and Italy recently held talks on a solution but will seek backing from more countries.

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2 p.m.

Italy's interior minister is vowing to make a charity boat with some 100 rescued migrants aboard pay dearly for docking in Sicily in defiance of a government ban.

Matteo Salvini, who leads the anti-migrant League party, tweeted the warning on Monday after the Eleonore entered Italian waters without permission and sailed toward a Sicilian port, where it was seized by Italian authorities.

Mission-Lifeline captain Claus-Peter Reisch said bad weather forced him to bring the migrants to Pozzallo's port after they were stranded on board for eight days by the outgoing populist Italian government's crackdown on humanitarian rescue boats.

Spurred by Salvini, the government has issued a decree establishing million-euro ($1.1 million) fines for captains of rescue boats that defy the ban on entering Italian waters or docking without permission.

Since authorities have seized the Eleonore, it appears they will let the migrants disembark.

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12:15 p.m.

Greek authorities have begun transporting about 1,500 asylum-seekers from the eastern Aegean island of Lesbos to the mainland, as part of government efforts to tackle overcrowding in refugee camps and a recent spike in the number of people arriving from the nearby Turkish coast.

A ship carrying 635 people set sail from Lesbos Monday morning for the northern port city of Thessaloniki. From there, authorities said the asylum seekers would be transported to a camp in Nea Kavala in northern Greece. A second ship carrying around 900 people was to leave Lesbos for Thessaloniki on Monday afternoon.

The transfer was part of decisions made during a national security meeting Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis convened Saturday, after nearly 600 people arrived on Lesbos in the space of an hour on Thursday.

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