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New rescue ship lets off migrants in Italy as others wait

By AFP - Nov 08,2022 - Last updated at Nov 08,2022

Migrants look on and wait on the deck of the ‘Ocean Viking’ rescue ship of European maritime-humanitarian organisation ‘SOS Mediterranee’ in the Gulf of Catania in the Mediterranean Sea in international waters on Sunday (AFP photo)

CATANIA, Italy — Nearly 90 migrants were allowed to disembark on Tuesday from a charity ship in a southern Italian port even as hundreds of others aboard three other vessels awaited safe harbour.

The ship Rise Above, operated by German humanitarian group Mission Lifeline, docked early Tuesday in Reggio Calabria at the toe of Italy, the non-profit said.

“We were able to disembark all 89 survivors”, the charity said — all migrants rescued in the Mediterranean after setting off from North Africa on overcrowded boats bound for Europe.

But around 250 other migrants still languished aboard two other rescue ships about 100 kilometres away in Sicily, after being refused permission to leave by Italian authorities.

Italy’s new government, led by far-right leader Giorgia Meloni, has vowed to stop the tens of thousands of migrants who land on its shores every year.

At the weekend, some 500 migrants were allowed to come to shore at Sicily’s eastern port of Catania from the Geo Barents and Humanity 1 charity ships, but about half that number were refused.

They remain in a state of limbo, with rights groups challenging an Italian decree that permitted the Humanity 1 to dock only for the time it took to help emergency cases, calling it illegal.

As NGOs warned the remaining migrants were under severe psychological strain, two Syrians who on Monday jumped from the Geo Barents slept overnight at the dock.

“From the time they dove into the sea to protest the decision of the Italian authorities, they spent the entire night in the open on the pier refusing water and food this morning,” said Doctors Without Borders (MSF), operator of the Geo Barents.

Members of the Red Cross performed a medical exam on the men Tuesday and one was subsequently taken away in an ambulance with a high fever, the group said.

MSF’s chief of mission, Juan Matias Gil, said the worst for the migrants was the uncertainty, not knowing what will happen next.

“No one can deal with this, at any level,” Gil said. “They can really feel it and their anxiety grows every day.”

Migrants allowed to disembark from the Rise Above on Tuesday were suffering from seasickness and exhaustion, Mission Lifeline said, while six people had been evacuated earlier after being deemed medical emergencies.

Meanwhile, a fourth charity rescue ship, the Ocean Viking, remains off the coast of Sicily, waiting for permission to dock.

Some 234 migrants are aboard that vessel, run by European charity SOS Mediterranee under a Norwegian flag.

Ships chartered by non-government organisations regularly pick up migrants from overcrowded boats seeking to cross from North Africa to Europe.

However, their passengers accounted for only 14 per cent of the more than 87,000 people who have landed in Italy so far this year, according to the interior ministry.

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi said Monday the government is acting “with humanity but firmly based on our principles”.

Piantedosi said he was working at a national and European Union level to reduce the burden on Italy after years of complaints from Rome that the European Union was not doing enough.

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