Ship refuses to leave Italy port until all migrants have left
CATANIA, Sicily (UKTN) — The captain of a charity-run migrant rescue ship on Sunday refused Italian orders to leave a Sicilian port after authorities refused to disembark 35 of the migrants on his ship — part of guidelines of the new far-right Italian government. led government targeting foreign-flagged rescue ships.
The two-week-old government of Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is denying a safe harbor to four ships operating in the central Mediterranean that rescued migrants in distress at sea, some as much as 16 days ago, leaving only those identified as vulnerable. marked, disembark.
On Sunday, Italy ordered Humanity 1 to leave the port of Catania after disembarking 144 rescued migrants, including children, more than 100 unaccompanied minors and those with medical emergencies.
But the captain refused to respond “until all survivors rescued at sea have been disembarked,” says SOS Humanity, the German charity that operates the ship. The ship remained moored in the harbor with 35 migrants on board.
A second charity ship arrived in Catania later Sunday, and the vetting process was repeated with the 572 migrants aboard MSF’s Geo Barents ship. The selection was completed by the end of the evening, with 357 admitted but 215 people blocked on board.
Families were the first to leave the ship. A man who was rocking a baby expressed his gratitude and said, “Thank you, Geo Barentsz, thank you,” as he left. Another man in a wheelchair was carried downstairs by Red Cross staff.
Yet two other boats belonging to non-governmental organizations remained stuck at sea and no port was prepared to take in the people they rescued.
Humanitarian groups, human rights activists and two Italian lawmakers who traveled to Sicily protested the selection process as illegal and inhumane. Italy’s new interior minister, Matteo Piantedosi, is targeting non-governmental organizations, which Italy has long accused of encouraging human trafficking in the central Mediterranean. The groups deny the claim.
“Free all people, free them,” Italian lawmaker Aboubakar Soumahoro said in an emotional appeal to Meloni from the rescue ship Humanity 1.
The passengers suffered “trauma, they endured everything that we can define as prolonged suffering,” said Soumahoro, who spent the night on the ship.
Later in port, he accused Meloni of playing politics at the expense of “newborns, women and people who have suffered all kinds of trauma”, including torture in Libyan prisons.
He said neither translators nor psychologists were present during the Italian selection process and that many of the migrants were from The Gambia and did not speak French, English or Italian.
“It’s their fault to speak another language. It’s their fault to be a different color,” Soumahoro said, accusing the Italian government of using the migrants to distract from other issues, including high energy prices.
On board Humanity 1, doctors in Italy identified people in need of emergency medical care after the ship’s doctor refused to make a selection, SOS Humanity spokesman Wasil Schauseil said. Thirty-six people were declared invulnerable and were not allowed to disembark, causing one to collapse and be taken away by an ambulance.
“You can imagine the condition of the people. It’s very devastating,” he said.
Both SOS Humanity and MSF issued statements declaring that all their passengers were vulnerable after being rescued at sea and deserved a safe haven under international law. SOS Humanity said it plans to file a civil suit in Catania to ensure that all 35 survivors on board have access to formal asylum procedures on land.
MSF stressed that “a rescue operation is not considered complete until all survivors have disembarked in a safe place.”
Two other charity ships carrying rescued migrants were stuck at sea, with people sleeping on floors and decks spreading respiratory infections and scabies as food and medical supplies ran out.
The German-led Rise Above, with 93 rescued at sea on board, sought a more protected position in the waters east of Sicily due to the weather, but spokeswoman Hermine Poschmann said on Sunday the crew had not received any messages from Italian authorities.
Poschmann described the cramped conditions on the relatively small 25-meter ship.
The Ocean Viking, operated by European charity SOS Mediteranee, with 234 migrants on board, remained in international waters, south of the Strait of Messina, and was not instructed to proceed to an Italian port, a spokesman said Sunday. The first rescue was 16 days ago.
“Agitation is evident among the survivors,” a charity worker named Morgane told The UK Time News on Sunday. Seasickness cases increased after high waves tossed the ship through the night.
“Today the weather has deteriorated considerably, with high winds, rough seas and rain on deck. … these extreme conditions caused additional suffering,” she said.
The confrontational stance of the Meloni government is reminiscent of the standoffs organized by Matteo Salvini, now Meloni’s infrastructure minister in charge of ports, during his brief stint as interior minister in 2018-2019. Italy’s new government is insisting that the countries whose charity-run ships sail must take in the migrants.
In a Facebook video, Salvini reiterated his claims that the presence of the humanitarian boats encourages smugglers.
Non-governmental organizations reject that claim, saying they are obligated by the law of the sea to rescue those in need and coastal countries are obligated to provide safe harbors as soon as possible.
Amnesty International called Italy’s attitude ‘outrageous’.
“Italy rightly expects other EU member states to share the responsibility for asylum seekers, but this does not justify imposing measures that only increase the suffering of already traumatized people,” the group said.
Colleen Barry reported from Milan. Emily Schultheis contributed from Berlin and Angela Charlton from Paris.
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