June 1, 2023

Italy allows migrants to disembark stranded boats

Hundreds of other migrants were allowed to disembark from one of the four boats Italy had prevented from docking.

The move appears to end a days-long saga after authorities arrested about 500 migrants at sea.

They were rescued by charity ships last month as they sailed from North Africa to Europe.

Doctors Without Borders said on Tuesday evening that all 213 migrants aboard the Geo Barentsz were allowed to disembark.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said she wanted to stop people smugglers from “determining who enters Italy”.

Italy allows migrants to disembark stranded boats

The right-wing government has been criticized for denying it a safe haven for lifeboats.

Doctors Without Borders tweeted Tuesday night that all passengers of the Geo Barents have been allowed to disembark following a “vulnerability assessment” by health officials.

Ricardo Gatti from Doctors Without Borders said from the ship: “We are very pleased to hear from the health authorities that all the survivors we have on board will disembark soon. Hopefully tonight.”

“This is really the end of the rescue,” he said.

Previously, 89 people were allowed to land on board the Rise Above.

Chiara Cardoletti, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ representative in Italy, said Italy had been on the front lines of the refugee crisis for too long and called on the European Union to find a common strategy.

“We appreciate what Italy has done to allow boats to enter its territorial waters and disembark children, women and people with medical conditions,” she told the BBC. “Italy must not be left alone, the European Union must move forward and look for adequate and faster solutions,” he added.

On Monday, three people from Geo Barentsz jumped into the water after being forbidden to disembark in the port of Catania, Sicily. They were among about 250 migrants who were asked to stay on two boats in Catania after officials deemed them “good”.

Mission Lifeline, the German charity that runs Rise Above, said in a statement: “It is relieved that the rescued people are finally safe on land” in Reggio Calabria on mainland Italy, just a few kilometers from Sicily. Many of the 89 who disembarked were described as minors.

Authorities told Italian media that they were allowed to leave because they got caught up in the so-called rescue and rescue incident (SAR) in the Mediterranean Sea, while the two boats docked in Sicily were not captured.

The charity condemned what it described as a “humiliating political game” that kept it at sea. According to Italian reports, Rise Above’s crew has not yet been able to exit the boat.

Mission Lifeline said the Rise Above is by far the smallest of the three ships in port and passengers have suffered badly in recent waves.

Italy is one of the main entry points to Europe. According to the United Nations, 85,000 migrants have arrived by boat since the beginning of the year.

Migrants sailing from North Africa in small, overcrowded boats are often in danger and rescued by relief vessels.

Two boats with a large group of migrants on board docked in Sicily last weekend.

Most were allowed to leave, but the 35 men on Humanity 1 and 215 others in Geo Barents, operated by Médecins Sans Frontières, were ordered to stay on the ship.

According to Italian media reports, a fourth boat, the Ocean Viking, operated by French charity SOS Mediterranée, is en route to France, where it will be allowed to dock. On board the ship are about 234 migrants who were apprehended off Libya 17 days ago and repeatedly demanded access to an Italian port.

SOS Mediterranée said the situation on board the Ocean Viking had “reached a critical point” that required an immediate response.

“We are facing extremely serious consequences, including the risk of loss of life. The physical and psychological well-being of survivors and crew members has been affected by the more than two-week blockade at sea,” said Xavier Luth, Group Operations Director.

Both SOS Humanity, which operates Humanity 1, and MSF argued that everyone on their ships was in danger because they were rescued from the sea.

SOS Humanity is also filing a lawsuit against the Italian government, alleging that a decree by an Italian minister allowing migrants to remain on ships violates Italian and international law.

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