Italy allows more migrants to leave rescue ships, stalemate eases



MILAN — The far-right-run Italian government’s week-long standoff with aid groups operating rescue ships was partially eased on Tuesday as authorities cleared all remaining migrants on two rescue ships to access the port. But a ship with 234 rescued migrants still at sea has appealed to France to offer it a safe port after more than two weeks of silence from Italy.

Italy was allowing migrants it had previously rejected as “not vulnerable” to disembark from the Geo Barents, run by Doctors Without Borders, in the Sicilian port of Catania. It comes after the 89 migrants aboard a German-run rescue ship were allowed to disembark on the Italian mainland earlier today.

Thirty-five migrants rescued at sea on the Humanity 1 ship were deemed by Italy not to be vulnerable and were barred for days from getting off the boat. This is despite protests from the aid group and experts who say all those found at sea in distress are entitled to the nearest safe harbor under international law.

Italian private television La7 reported on Tuesday evening that those 35 people were also disembarked, but there was no immediate confirmation from the charity.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has defended Italy’s hard line, saying voters who brought her government to power in September “asked us to defend Italy’s borders”.

“Our goal is to uphold the legality, safety and dignity of every person. for this we must stop illegal immigration, avoid further deaths at sea and fight human trafficking,’ she said in a Facebook post.

Doctors Without Borders, which operates the Geo Barents, said the disembarkation of the remaining 214 migrants on board was “a great relief after weeks of waiting”.

With its Ocean Viking rescue vessel still on the high seas 18 days after its first rescue, European aid group SOS Méditerranée has appealed to France for a safe harbor, saying the situation on the vessel has reached “a critical limit. “. Italian authorities ignored repeated requests for port.

“We are facing very serious consequences, including the risk of loss of life,” said Xavier Lauth, the group’s chief operating officer. “The physical and psychological well-being of survivors and crew has been depleted by more than two weeks of stranding at sea. This is now a humanitarian emergency.

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi laid the groundwork for closing Italian ports to humanitarian rescue ships by drafting measures claiming that two aid groups – SOS Humanité and SOS Méditerranée – were violating procedures by not coordinating their rescues incorrectly.

SOS Humanity, which is also based in Germany, confirmed on Tuesday that the 35 people remaining on board its ship following the vetting process and have filed fast-track applications for political asylum with a court in Catania. He said the condition of people on Humanity 1 was deteriorating day by day and some had started a hunger strike.

In desperation, two Syrian men jumped overboard from one of the ships, the Geo Berents, on Monday, and a third entered afterward to try to save them, said Doctors Without Borders, which operates the ship.

Nicole Winfield contributed from Rome.

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