Migrant charity ship repelled by Italy heads for France

ROME, Nov 8 (Reuters) – A migrant rescue ship with more than 200 people on board sailed to France on Tuesday after Italy denied it permission to dock as its right-wing new prime minister Giorgia Meloni attempts to suppress migration across the Mediterranean.

Meloni’s two-week-old government has asked charity ships to ferry rescued people to other countries, although a long standoff initially involving four boats showed signs of resolution on Tuesday, two of them having been authorized to disembark their passengers.

“After Italy’s silence, we ask the French maritime authorities to allocate a port to the 234 survivors of the #OceanViking,” said French charity SOS Méditerranée, noting that many migrants have been at sea for 18 days.

There was no immediate word from France on the request.

The situation “has reached a limit,” SOS Méditerranée representative Alessandro Porro said in a statement, adding that the Ocean Viking was due to reach international waters off the French island of Corsica on Thursday.

He spent the last days off Sicily.

In a sign that Rome’s campaign against non-governmental groups is having some impact, Spanish charity Salvamento Maritimo Humanitario has said it will postpone a planned rescue-at-sea mission due to the risk of its ship being seized by Italian authorities. .

Humanitarian groups say Italy’s policies are likely to lead to more migrant deaths, while Rome says if there are fewer charity boats to collect those leaving African shores, there will likely be fewer crossings and therefore fewer deaths.

Italian Transport Minister Matteo Salvini, leader of the Anti-Migrant League party, applauded the development, tweeting: “So like this. Italy will not be complicit in human trafficking. Someone start- understand that?”

Crew members of the NGO “Ocean Viking” rescue ship give life jackets to migrants on an overcrowded boat in the Mediterranean Sea, October 25, 2022. Camille Martin Juan/Sos Mediterranee/Handout via REUTERS


The two ships allowed to dock in Sicily over the weekend were only allowed to let the most vulnerable – mostly women and children – disembark, leaving around 250 people on board.

One of these ships, the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) Geo Barents, received permission on Tuesday to disembark all its remaining passengers while the other, the German Humanity 1, was still stuck with 35 people on board. .

Most of the passengers have been on hunger strike for two days, said SOS Humanity, the charity that runs the ship.

Few details were available on the origin of the migrants.

Rise Above, a fourth ship run by German charity Mission Lifeline, was allowed to enter the port of Reggio Calabria on Tuesday, where the 89 people it had picked up from the Mediterranean were allowed to disembark.

“We are relieved that those rescued are finally safe on land,” the group said in a statement, condemning what it called an “undignified political game” that had kept them at sea for about a week.

The United Nations migration and refugee agencies on Monday called on Italy to let all stranded migrants disembark, adding that all “concerned states” should then take responsibility for new arrivals.

Italy has seen a surge in migrant arrivals this year, with nearly 88,700 people arriving in 2022 compared to 56,500 in the same period last year, according to official data. About 15% of them were picked up by the charity boats.

Additional reporting by Crispian Balmer and Gavin Jones; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Josie Kao

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