Migrant rescue ship enters Sicilian port

MILAN (HPD) — Italy allowed a humanitarian rescue ship carrying 179 migrants to enter a Sicilian port and begin disembarking minors Sunday morning, while refusing to respond to safe harbor requests from three other ships. carrying 900 more people in nearby waters.

Italy’s new far-right government has closed its ports to migrant rescue boats operated by non-government groups and insists that the countries whose flag the boats fly must take in the migrants. It granted Humanity 1 only access to the port to disembark minors and people who needed medical attention.

Officials from the German-run charity that operates the Humanity 1 criticized Italy’s decision to single out “vulnerable” migrants, saying they were all rescued at sea, which itself makes them eligible for safe harbor under the law. international.

The only black lawmaker in the Italian lower house, Abourbakar Soumahoro, met with Humanity 1 in the port of Catania and called the government’s closure of ports to NGO ships a “shame”.

“Right now, a selective landing is taking place in the port of Catania,” Soumahoro tweeted. “Worn bodies of castaways exhausted in advance by cold, fatigue, trauma and torture are considered objects by the government of Giorgia Meloni.”

The measure was approved after Germany and France urged Italy to give the migrants a safe harbor and indicated that they will receive some of them so that Italy does not bear all the responsibility alone.

No such provisions have been offered to the other three ships. The Norwegian-flagged Geo Barents, carrying 572 migrants, and the German-run Rise Above, carrying 93, entered Italian waters east of Sicily this weekend to seek protection from storm-tossed seas, but received no Italy’s consent or a response to repeated requests for a safe harbor.

The Ocean Viking, operated by the European charity SOS Mediteranee, with 234 migrants on board, remained in international waters, south of the Strait of Messina. Her requests for a port also went unanswered.

“We have been waiting 10 days for a safe place to disembark the 572 survivors,” said Juan Mattias Gil, head of mission for the Geo Barents, which is run by Doctors Without Borders. The head of the operation, Riccardo Gatti, said that apart from suffering from skin and respiratory infections, many on board were stressed by the long time at sea.

SOS Humanity, which operates the Humanity 1, only reported that it had made 19 requests for safe harbor, all without response. He added that the ship is carrying 100 unaccompanied minors, as well as babies up to seven months.

Italy’s new far-right government insists that countries whose flag is flown by ships run by charities must accept migrants. At a press conference on Friday night, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi described those ships as “islands” that are under the jurisdiction of the flag countries.

Infrastructure Minister Matteo Salvini, known for his anti-immigrant stance, praised the new directive that he himself signed along with Italy’s defense and interior ministers.

“Let’s stop being hostage to these foreign and private NGOs that organize the routes, the traffic, the transport and the migration policies,” Salvini said in a Facebook video, repeating his claim that the presence of the boats encourages drug smugglers. people.

Non-governmental organizations reject this interpretation and point out that they are obliged by the law of the sea to rescue people in danger and that coastal nations have an obligation to provide a safe harbor as soon as possible.

“The decree of the Italian interior minister is undoubtedly illegal,” said Mirka Schaefer of SOS Humanity. “Pushing refugees back at the Italian border violates the Geneva Convention on Refugees and international law.”

Most traveled through Libya, from where they set out in search of a better life in Europe on unseaworthy boats, often facing abuse from human smugglers along the way.

As humanitarian ships are denied a safe port, thousands of migrants have reached Italian shores over the past week, either on their own on fishing boats or rescued at sea by Italian authorities. On Saturday, 147 arrived in Augusta, including 59 on the Zagara oil tanker, which was also carrying two bodies.

The situation at Rise Above was particularly dire, with 93 people crammed aboard a relatively small 25-meter (82-foot) boat. Spokeswoman Hermine Poschmann described a “critical situation that… caused enormous tensions” on board, as passengers saw land and did not understand why they were not docking.

The ship’s chief of mission, Clemens Ledwa, demanded an immediate safe harbor, citing bad weather and the small ship’s limited capacity.

“This is not a wish. This is everyone’s right,” he noted on Friday night.


Emily Schultheis reported from Berlin.

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