Charity rescue vessel Ocean Viking was preparing yesterday to return to rescuing shipwreck survivors off Libya after disembarking 82 migrants in Italy following a reversal of government policy in Rome.
Italian authorities identified and carried out medical checks on the sub-Saharan African migrants after they disembarked overnight on southern island Lampedusa after more than six days at sea.
Almost all of the 82 migrants had been brought to the Italian island of Lampedusa by morning yesterday, the Ansa news agency reported.
In an operation beginning overnight, they were brought to land using smaller boats belonging to the coastguard.
The Ocean Viking itself had not been allowed to directly dock at the port.
“The teams of @SOSMedIntl and @MSF_Sea are relieved that the men, women and children have finally reached a safe place,” tweeted SOS Mediterranee, which operates the ship alongside Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
“After 14 months, the Ocean Viking is the first civilian rescue vessel authorised to take people to a safe place in Italy,” wrote SOS Mediterranee, welcoming the decision of the new government as an encouraging signal.
Under an ad hoc European deal, Italy, France and Germany will take 24 migrants each.
Portugal will take eight and Luxembourg two, Italian media reported.
“After disembarkation, the Ocean Viking should head back to her search and rescue mission in the Central Mediterranean, because people continue to die in these waters where no rescue ship is currently present in the area,” Nicola Stalla, the vessel’s search and rescue co-ordinator, said on Saturday.
European leaders are trying to thrash out an automatic mechanism that would see rescued migrants who are brought to Italy or Malta swiftly redistributed around Europe.
It is unclear how many countries will sign up to the scheme.
Italy’s new government, sworn in last week, is forging its own migrant policy after 14 months of former interior minister Matteo Salvini’s hardline stance against charity vessels and migrants.
The far-right leader, now in opposition, hit out at a rally in northern Italy at the German captain of another charity rescue vessel, the Sea-Watch 3.
Salvini lashed out at Carola Rackete as “a pampered communist” and “someone who nearly killed five soldiers while on duty”.
Rackete, 31, was arrested in June 2019 and held for several days after the Sea-Watch 3 hit an Italian police speedboat while entering Lampedusa port despite a ban from entering Italy’s waters.
Her arrest was overturned by a court and she was released, but the ship was seized.
Italy and Malta say that they bear disproportionate responsibility for migrants making the perilous Mediterranean crossing as they are the closest European Union states to Libya, from where they mainly depart.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is expected to discuss the plan with France’s President Emmanuel Macron when the latter visits Rome on Wednesday.
It will then be studied in more detail at a meeting of interior ministers on September 23 in Malta, ahead of a European summit in October in Luxembourg.
Former Democratic Party prime minister Matteo Renzi has called for “a great Marshall plan for Africa. More co-operation, more investment”, he tweeted.
According to intelligence reports cited by Italian media yesterday, an estimated 5,000-8,000 migrants are waiting to leave Libya via the Mediterranean.
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