Italy letting rescue ship with 306 migrants go to Sicily

AP , Wednesday 10 Nov 2021

After days of waiting in the choppy central Mediterranean, a charity rescue ship with 306 migrants aboard on Wednesday received permission by Italy to disembark the passengers just as a storm approached, the humanitarian organization said.

Ocean Viking ship
File Photo: The Ocean Viking rescue ship is moored at Porto Empedocle harbor, southern Italy, on July 6, 2020. AP

SOS Mediterranee tweeted that those aboard Ocean Viking felt "indescribable relief'' that Italian authorities approved disembarking of the passengers in Augusta, Sicily.

The humanitarian group said the port assignment came just ahead of a strong storm bearing down on area of the central Mediterranean where Ocean Viking has been essentially stranded for days while waiting permission to dock.

"States must set up again a mechanism for disembarking to avoid these continuous stalemates at sea,'' the charity said.

With the anti-migrant League one of the parties in Premier Mario Draghi's broad coalition, political pressure has been strong to discourage the arrivals of migrants rescued at sea by charity ships from unseaworthy vessels launched by human traffickers.

Crew members aboard the Ocean Viking said that recent downpours left migrants on the open deck drenched and shivering. The migrants' "teeth are chattering'' from the cold, SOS Mediterranee said hours before port permission was received. The charity said that on Tuesday night 2-meter (6.5 foot) high waves rocked the vessel.

Last weekend, the Italian Coast Guard evacuated a total of eight people, including those needing medical assistance and their immediate family members, from Ocean Viking.

That left 306 migrants aboard, some for more than a week since their rescue, waiting in limbo off Lampedusa, a tiny Italian island south of Sicily.

On Sunday, another humanitarian rescue ship, Sea-Eye 4, arrived in the port of Trapani, Sicily, after days of waiting for permission. Aboard were more than 800 rescued migrants.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, migrants rescued at sea and brought to Italy undergo preventative quarantine, many of them transferred to currently unused passenger ferries.

Those fleeing poverty are usually denied asylum.

Italy's pleas to other European Union nations to take in some of the asylum-seekers generally go unheeded. Since Italy has barely a handful of repatriation agreements with the homelands of the migrants, they often wind up staying in Italy, trying to find odd jobs or a way to reach work or family elsewhere in Europe.

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