The ship refuses to leave the port of Italy until all the migrants have left

CATANIA, Sicily (Associated Press) – The captain of a migrant rescue ship operated by a charity refused Italian orders to leave the port of Sicily Sunday after authorities refused to allow 35 migrants on his ship to disembark – part of the directive by the new far-right Italian government targeting foreign-flagged rescue ships.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s two-week-old government is refusing to house four ships operating in the central Mediterranean that have rescued migrants at sea in distress, some 16 days ago, and is only allowing those identified as at risk to disembark.

On Sunday, Italy ordered Humanity 1 to evacuate the port of Catania after the disembarkation of 144 rescued migrants, including children, and more than 100 unaccompanied minors. and people with medical emergencies.

But its captain refused to comply “until all survivors rescued from ordeal are disembarked at sea,” said the German charity SOS Humanity that operates the ship. The ship remained anchored in the port with 35 migrants on board.

Later on Sunday, a second charity ship arrived in Catania, and the screening process was repeated with the 572 migrants on board the Geo Barents ship operated by Doctors Without Borders. The check-in was completed late in the evening, with 357 people allowed off but 215 prevented on board.

The families were the first to leave the ship. A man cuddling a child expressed his gratitude, saying “Thank you Geo Parents, thank you” as he left. Red Cross workers carried another man in a wheelchair.

However, two other boats operated by NGOs remained stranded at sea with no port ready to accept the rescued people.

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 Bentidosi, is targeting NGOs that Italy has long accused of encouraging human trafficking in the central Mediterranean. The groups deny this claim.

“Free all the people, set them free,” Italian MP Abubakar Somahoro said in an emotional appeal to Meloni from the Humanitarian Rescue Ship 1:

Somahoro, who spent the night on the ship, said the passengers faced “a shock, they experienced everything we can define as prolonged suffering.”

Later in port, Meloni was accused of playing politics at the expense of “newborn babies, women, and people who had suffered trauma of all kinds”, including torture in Libyan prisons.

He said that there were neither translators nor psychologists during the selection process in Italy and that many of the immigrants were from Gambia, unable to speak French, English or Italian.

Their fault is to speak another language. Their mistake is to have another color, Somahoro said, accusing the Italian government of using migrants to distract attention from other issues, including high energy prices.

On the humanitarian ship 1, doctors in Italy identified people in need of urgent medical care after the ship’s doctor refused the choice, according to SOS Humanity spokesperson, Wasil Schuessel. Thirty-six people were declared invulnerable and not allowed to disembark, causing one of them to collapse and be carried away by an ambulance.

“You can imagine the condition of the people. It is very devastating,” he said.

Both the humanitarian organization SOS and Doctors Without Borders released statements declaring that all of their passengers were at risk after being rescued at sea, and that they deserved a safe port under international law. SOS Humanity said it plans to file a civil case in Catania to ensure all 35 survivors on board can access the official asylum procedure on land.

Médecins Sans Frontières confirmed that “the rescue operation is not considered complete until all survivors have been disembarked in a safe place.”

Two other charity ships carrying rescued migrants remain stranded at sea, with people sleeping on floors and decks spreading respiratory infections and scabies as food and medical supplies run low.

The German ship Rise Abov, carrying 93 people rescued at sea, has sought a more protected position in waters east of Sicily due to the weather, but spokeswoman Hermine Buschmann said on Sunday that the crew had not received any communications from Italian authorities.

Bushman described the cramped conditions aboard the relatively small 25 m (82 ft) long ship.

A spokesman for Ocean Viking, which is run by the European charity SOS Mediteranee, with 234 migrants on board, said it remained in international waters, south of the Strait of Messina, and had not received any instructions to head for an Italian port. Her first rescue was 16 days ago.

“The anger is palpable among the survivors,” a charity worker named Morgan told The Associated Press on Sunday. Cases of seasickness rose after the ship was battered by rough waves overnight.

Today, the weather has greatly deteriorated, bringing strong winds, rough seas, and rain on the deck. … these harsh conditions added suffering.”

The confrontational stance taken by the Meloni government is reminiscent of the standoffs arranged by Matteo Salvini, the current Meloni Minister of Infrastructure and in charge of ports, during his short 2018-2019 tenure as Minister of the Interior. The new Italian government insists on countries flying their flags ships operated by charities You must take in immigrants.

In a Facebook video, Salvini reiterated his claims that the presence of humanitarian boats encourages smugglers.

The NGOs reject this claim, saying that they are obligated under the law of the sea to rescue people in danger and that coastal states are obligated to provide a safe port as soon as possible.

Amnesty International described Italy’s position as “shameful”.

“Italy legitimately expects other EU member states to share responsibility for asylum seekers, but this does not justify imposing measures that only increase the suffering of already infected people,” the organization said.


Colin Barry reported from Milan. Emily Schulthess from Berlin and Angela Charlton from Paris contributed.


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