ROME -- Italy deported most of the African migrants who arrived on a ship operated by a German relief agency, putting 25 of them on a plane to Ghana yesterday and drawing protests from humanitarian agencies and opposition politicians.
A handful of others who were taken off the plane for causing a disturbance also will be expelled, officials said, in a case that highlighted the issue of illegal immigration in Europe.
The deportees were part of a group of 37 Africans permitted to dock in Sicily on July 12 after a diplomatic stalemate. The German vessel had plied the Mediterranean for weeks in search of a friendly port. Five of the Africans on board were flown out Tuesday.
The ship's operator, the relief agency Cap Anamur, of Cologne, Germany, said that it rescued the Africans at sea on June 20 and that some had identified themselves as refugees from Sudan's Darfur region, which the United Nations says is suffering the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
Italian Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu told parliament Wednesday that "scrupulous investigation by police" ascertained that none was from Sudan and none deserved asylum. He said six were from Nigeria and 31 from Ghana.
A disturbance on the plane delayed the aircraft's departure by two hours, said a senior government official, speaking on grounds of anonymity.
The Interior Ministry said last night that one Nigerian had been granted permission to stay in return for cooperating with Italian authorities investigating the ship's voyage. The six other would-be immigrants will be expelled "on the first possible flight," the ministry said. It was not immediately clear how many of the six were those who had been pulled off the plane.
The Nigerian, who was granted permission to stay in Italy, told private TG5 TV yesterday that before leaving Libya, the 37 were told by a smuggler to say they were Sudanese when they arrived in Italy. The Nigerian said he had paid the smuggler $1,000 to make the trip.
The government of Premier Silvio Berlusconi has promised to crack down on illegal immigration and stem the flow of refugees reaching its shorelines. A measure passed last year requires immigrants to have guaranteed jobs. Even so, thousands try to reach Italy's shore undetected.
Humanitarian groups and opposition politicians have accused authorities of being overly harsh.
The Italian refugee group CIR said the expulsions were carried out "without any sense of pity, without any consideration for the dignity and elementary rights of every person."