Italy prevents 35 migrants from disembarking from a rescue ship at the port

CATANIA, Sicily (AP) – Italian authorities on Sunday prevented 35 migrants they believed were not at risk from disembarking from a boat in Sicily, as Italy’s far-right government takes a tough line against privately operated sea rescue ships in Italian waters.

The ramifications of a directive launched by Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi became clearer overnight. The Humanity 1, with 179 rescued passengers, was granted access to the Sicilian port, but three other lifeboats operated by NGOs and carrying 900 other people remained at sea.

The NGOs reported that people were sleeping on floors and decks, fever-causing infections and scabies were spreading, and food and medical supplies were nearly gone. Some migrants have been on the ships for more than two weeks.

Officials at the German-run charity SOS Humanity, which operates Humanity 1, questioned Italy’s decision to distinguish passengers as “vulnerable” or not. All of the ship’s passengers were rescued at sea, and that alone qualifies them for a safe haven under international law, the organization said.

“As we feared, not everyone was allowed to disembark,” SOS Humanity spokesman Wasil Schauseil said on Sunday.

“Our doctor was asked to make a selection of those who are in poor health, and the doctor replied that everyone is in a vulnerable situation, so she would not make the selection,” said Schauseil.

According to the charity, over 100 of the 179 people on Humanity 1 were unaccompanied minors.

Two Italian doctors eventually boarded the ship after midnight and conducted checks throughout the night to determine which people on board had health conditions that made them vulnerable.

“Doctors declared 36 people not in an emergency. Upon receiving the message, one person collapsed, lost consciousness and had to be picked up by an ambulance,” Schauseil said. “That’s why there are 35 people on board.

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

The Humanity 1 has not yet received an order to leave port, as stipulated in the directive signed by three Italian ministers on Friday evening. It said the ship was able to stay in Italian waters just long enough to determine which passengers were at risk, defined as minors and people with medical emergencies.

“Everyone has the right to disembark and we expect anyone to be able to disembark,” said Schauseil. “We do not believe that this is valid under international law.”

Three other ships carrying rescued migrants remained at sea, two in Italian waters and one in international waters, after crews repeatedly asked for safe ports.

The Norwegian-flagged Geo Barents with 572 migrants and the German-operated Rise Above with 93 migrants entered Italian waters east of Sicily over the weekend to seek shelter from storm-tossed seas.

The Ocean Viking, operated by European charity SOS Mediteranee, remained in international waters south of the Strait of Messina with 234 migrants on board.

The confrontational stance of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s government is reminiscent of the standoffs orchestrated by Matteo Salvini, now Meloni’s port infrastructure minister, during his brief tenure as interior minister from 2018-2019.

Italy’s new government insists that the countries flying the flags of the charity-run vessels must take in the migrants. Late Friday, Piantedosi described such ships as “islands” under the jurisdiction of flag states.

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

NGOs reject the government’s interpretation, saying they have an obligation under the law of the sea to rescue people in distress at sea and that coastal states have an obligation to provide a safe haven as soon as possible.

While boats operated by humanitarian organizations are denied a safe haven, thousands of migrants have reached the Italian coast in the last week, either alone in fishing boats or after being rescued at sea by Italian authorities. According to the government, they account for 85% of all arrivals.


Colleen Barry reported from Milan.


Follow AP’s coverage of global migration at Italy prevents 35 migrants from disembarking from a rescue ship at the port

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