Italy’s hardline interior minister Matteo Salvini has relented and agreed to allow minors on a migrant ship off the country’s coast to disembark.
The boat is carrying 134 people who were rescued near Libya but has been blocked from docking at Lampedusa, Italy’s southernmost island.
Prime minister Giuseppe Conte wrote a letter to Mr Salvini to demand the minors were allowed off.
Mr Salvini agreed but made clear it did not set a precedent and that the decision was the PM’s.
The minors were pictured being transferred to a smaller police boat and arriving on Lampedusa.
The NGO that runs the humanitarian boat, Barcelona-based Open Arms, said there were 27 minors on board.
The group’s founder has also warned that he can no longer guarantee the safety of those on board because of growing tension and fights.
“We don’t have the capacity nor can we control these 134 people,” said Oscar Camps.
Actor Richard Gere recently boarded the boat to give them food and supplies.
The boat has been stuck near Italy for two weeks. Conditions on board are said to be deteriorating and there have been six medical evacuations.
Mr Camps said there was a “sanitary emergency” as the boat has just two toilets.
Mr Salvini – who has likened humanitarian rescue ships to migrant taxi services – had stuck to his guns and refused to let the boat dock, despite losing a legal fight to enter Italy’s territorial waters.
He has built his reputation on a strict campaign against illegal immigration but has now agreed to allow “presumed minors” to disembark.
“Permission to disembark for these people is the sole responsibility of Prime Minister Conte,” he said in a statement.
France, Germany, Romania, Portugal, Spain and Luxembourg offered on Thursday to take in the migrants but where they will end up is still uncertain.
The ship’s passengers include nine-month-old Ethiopian twins and the NGO that runs the boat says the 121 people on board are victims of abuse, rape and torture.
People are continuing to try to cross the sea from North Africa to Europe, with four more boats carrying 278 people picked up by the Libyan coastguard on Tuesday.
However, the numbers are much lower than the peak of the migrant crisis a few years ago.
More than 4,200 migrants have so far arrived in Italy by sea this year, says the UN Refugee Agency. Most of them are from Tunisia (858) and Pakistan (620).
Some 575 are also dead or missing on the North Africa-Italy route, up until end of July.
Across the Mediterranean region, the figure is 838 – just over half of what was recorded in the same period in 2018.