Stranded migrants disembark in Italy as one ship sails to France


The remaining passengers of two humanitarian ships that Italy had initially refused to accept were allowed to disembark, while another ship carrying 234 people went to France in hopes of a safe harbor.

The Ocean Viking, operated by the European organization SOS Mediterranee, left Sicily on Tuesday for the French island of Corsica.

It was not yet clear whether the ship would be allowed to dock by the French government, which had previously called on Italy to provide a safe harbor for the refugees and migrants.

The organization told Al Jazeera on Wednesday that it had sent nine requests for a safe place, but had not yet received a response.

The Ocean Viking has been at sea for more than two weeks since its first rescue in the central Mediterranean.

The new far-right government of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni last week remained silent over repeated calls from rescue groups to provide a safe haven, effectively blocking the Norwegian-flagged Ocean Viking and Geo Barents and the German-flagged Humanity 1 at sea.

Rome sent letters to the embassies of Norway and Germany, saying that NGO ships flying their flags were not following European security rules and undermining what it described as the fight against undocumented immigration.

On Sunday, Italian authorities allowed only selected refugees and migrants deemed “vulnerable” to disembark from Geo Barents and Humanity 1, with the intention of sending the nearly 250 remaining people back to sea.

Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi drew outrage on Monday after he labeled those picked by authorities over the weekend as “residual loads” that do not need salvage.

In an apparent U-turn, all passengers were allowed to disembark late on Tuesday.

The Humanity 1, operated by the SOS Humanity group, disembarked the remaining 35 passengers at the Sicilian port of Catania.

They had previously announced that they were going on a hunger strike to draw attention to their fate after other 144 people were let off the boat.

“We are relieved that the people can go ashore and that all those rescued at sea have finally been given a safe place, as required by the law of the sea,” said Till Rummenhohl, who is responsible for SOS Humanity’s ship operations. in a statement.

“However, we are appalled at the blatant disregard for laws and human rights by the Italian authorities.”

The nonprofit announced Monday that it plans to take legal action against a decision by the Italian government that allows the selective disembarkation of migrants deemed vulnerable while rejecting others.

According to the decree, the captain of Humanity 1 was asked on Sunday to leave the port again with the 35 survivors on board, which he refused. “It is my duty to complete the rescue of those in need by disembarking all survivors in the port of Catania as a safe place. I cannot leave the harbor until all survivors rescued at sea have disembarked,” said Joachim Ebeling.

The Geo Barentsz, run by Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders), was also allowed to disembark the remaining 214 passengers. “This is the end of the rescue operation according to international convention, maritime law and of course ethical and moral needs,” said Riccardo Gatti, MSF team leader.

The organization said in a tweet that the ship would be back at sea on Wednesday for another rescue operation. “That is our response to the EU’s reckless policy of non-aid,” it said.

Two Syrian men who were denied disembarkation over the weekend jumped from the Geo Barentsz on Monday and spent the night on the quay after refusing to re-board.

A man identified by the organization as Ahmad left Damascus in 2020. He reached Libya and attempted to reach Europe six times. Each time he was returned to Libyan detention centers, where he was abused.

The second man, identified as Youssef, said he “went crazy” on the boat. “I left Northern Syria to provide a safer life for my family. I have four daughters who are in Syria and I hope that [they] can join me soon,” he said.

“In recent years we have seen bombs fall on our city and they cannot go to school because it is still not safe. I just want to find a place where we are free from fear.”

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