Pope tells European Union to stop bickering over migrant ships in Epiphany message

Dismay Pope Francis after Mass for the Feast of Epiphany in St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican

Dismay Pope Francis after Mass for the Feast of Epiphany in St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican

Malta is also refusing to let the boats dock or the migrants disembark, but has allowed the two boats to enter its waters for fresh supplies.

The rescue boats belong to the German NGOs Sea-Watch and Sea Eye.

Speaking after the Angelus at St Peter's Square, Pope Francis said: "49 persons rescued from the Mediterranean Sea have been aboard two NGO ships for several days, seeking harbour for disembarkation".

Pope Francis brought the issue to global attention on Sunday, when he urged European leaders to show "concrete solidarity regarding these people". They include three small children and four teenagers. "It is easy to play the Christmas Saint with everyone, but then come January, February and the summer period we would be told to do the same".

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"This is an issue that might set a precedent and we should be vigilant about it", the prime minister said in a statement.

As well as Pope Francis' call for a safe port of call for the migrants, Amnesty International and the United Nations' International Organization for Migration have called on the European Union to offer a safe port for both ships. "That is our position", he said.

Mr Salvini has often criticised the pope, who has made defence of migrants a key feature of his pontificate.

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