Italy's idea to set up "floating" migrant screening centres on the Mediterranean is "unthinkable," a top Catholic Church official said Wednesday, calling on Europe to instead open its doors to refugees.

Under the Italian plan, migrant rescue boats would be fitted with fingerprinting machines and other apparatuses to perform the same functions as "hotspots," the registration and detention centres recently opened in Italy and Greece with European Union funding.

The purpose would be to separate migrants who can claim asylum, and are thus eligible to stay in Europe, from those who cannot and must be repatriated. Human rights associations say distinguishing between the two groups is difficult and may lead to abuse.

"Migrants rescued at sea have the right [...] to file asylum applications and to appeal if their demand is not accepted. This form of international protection is not possible on boats," Monsignor Nunzio Galantino, general secretary of the Italian Catholic Bishops' Conference, told the newspaper La Repubblica.

"It is equally unthinkable to use boats intended for rescue to hold thousands of people in the Mediterranean before taking them to unknown destinations. Unless they want to take them back to ports in Libya and Egypt, condemning them to new forms of exploitation," he said.

Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, who is the main sponsor of the floating hotspot plan, said he "understood" Galantino's position, but in comments carried by the ANSA news agency, added: "We have a big heart, but we cannot welcome everybody."

In Brussels, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was cautious about Rome's proposals. "I'm not against it but there are legal questions which have to be [examined]. But I'm not saying no, I'm not saying yes, I'm reflecting," he said at a press conference.

Separately, the far-right Northern League party dismissed Galantino's remarks as "crazy, absurd and irresponsible," and proposed that the Vatican should offer its wealth - including the funds held by its IOR bank - to pay for migrant reception in Italy.

The Italian bishop called last week's sea migrant deaths - at least 1,000, according to aid groups - "a slap" to a Europe which "did not have the courage to set up humanitarian corridors" to allow migrants to travel safely and avoid "violence, exploitation and death."

Under Pope Francis, the Vatican has been a vocal campaigner for migrant rights. The bishop of Ventimiglia, an Italian town on the border with France, made the news this week for offering shelter to about 70 migrants evicted from an irregular camping site.

Latest news

Syrian opposition rules out future role for President al-Assad

The Syrian opposition said Friday it would not accept any role for President Bashar al-Assad in the future of the war-torn country, reacting to a recent US shift saying that removing al-Assad is no longer a priority for Washington.

Russian Army integrates breakaway forces of Georgian province

Parts of the small fighting forces of the Georgian breakaway province of South Ossetia have been placed under Russian military control, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Friday.

Czech Republic's Pilsner Urquell beer is now Japanese

Japanese brewing company Asahi completed its takeover of the Czech brewery Pilsner Urquell on Friday, Asahi said in a statement.

Judge approves 25-million-dollar settlement of Trump University case

A US district judge on Friday approved a 25-million-dollar settlement of lawsuits and state fraud allegations against Trump University, the US president's now-defunct business venture.

Former Thai premier Thaksin to junta on reconciliation: 'Cut me out'

Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Friday announced that he is not interested in the junta-led reconciliation process, three days after the junta handed him a half-a-billion-dollar tax bill for his past business deal.

Dalic: We welcome possible deal between Agrokor and banks

The government welcomes the possibility of an agreement being concluded between the Agrokor food company and creditor banks, and the bill on vitally important companies is not a fallback plan but the result of the government's care for the overall economic and financial stability of Croatia, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy Martina Dalic told a press conference in Zagreb on Friday.

Croatia, China sign action plan for cooperation in agriculture

The Croatian and Chinese ministries of agriculture on Friday signed an action plan for cooperation in the field of agriculture for the period 2017-2018, the Croatian ministry said in a statement.

ZSE indices up, Agrokor shares in focus of investor interest

The Zagreb Stock Exchange (ZSE) indices on Friday rose by more than 1.8%, with stocks of the Agrokor food and retail concern being in the focus of investor interest again.

Berlin police defend handling of Berlin market attacker

Berlin police defended themselves on Friday against accusations that they stopped surveillance on Berlin Christmas market attacker despite knowing in June 2016 he was dangerous.

Croatia, creditors tailor emergency measures to save tottering giant

Croatia's tottering retail and food giant Agrokor reached an agreement with its creditors, putting its debts standby and allowing it to continue working during emergency restructuring, the Croatian branch of Austria's Erste Bank said Friday.

Agrokor's creditors say standstill agreement to go into force today

A standstill agreement regarding the Agrokor concern's existing financial obligations to banks will take effect on Friday, additional capital will be injected into the concern in the coming days and the concern will be actively restructured, which includes a change of its management, it was said on Friday after a meeting between Agrokor's suppliers and creditor banks.

Palestinians, UN slam Israel's new settlement plan

Palestinians, Israeli activists and the UN lambasted the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday, a day after it gave the go-ahead for the first new West Bank settlement in a quarter of a century.

South Sudan rebels release three abducted foreign oil workers

South Sudanese rebels have released three foreign engineers they abducted in early March in the oil-rich Upper Nile region, Foreign Affairs Ministry official Mawein Makol Arik said on Friday.

Turkish opposition: Imprisoned party chief has gone on hunger strike

The head of Turkey's pro-Kurdish opposition party has launched a hunger strike from prison.

European leagues threaten Champions League schedule clashes

The European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL) on Friday threatened schedule clashes on Champions League matchdays in an ongoing dispute with the governing body UEFA.

Danish court revokes citizenship of IS volunteer

A Danish appellate court on Friday stripped a man of his Danish citizenship for volunteering to fight for the extremist Islamic State in Syria.

Banks and Agrokor agree on key elements of standstill agreement

Member banks of the coordinating committee of financial creditors and representatives of the Agrokor food company have in principle agreed on key elements of a standstill agreement, which is expected to be signed later today, announcing changes in the company's management team, Erste Bank said in a statement on Friday afternoon.

Syrian man on trial in Sweden; mosque attack labelled terrorism

A Syrian man went on trial Friday in the southern Swedish city of Malmo, charged with terrorism and arson after an attack last year on a building used as an assembly hall by Shiite Muslims.