Activists have accused Italian authorities of blocking migrant rescue ship Sea-Watch 4 from leaving port and resuming its emergency mission in the Mediterranean.
After an inspection on the safety of the vessel to operate in high seas, Italian authorities placed the ship under an administrative blockade, said the German activist groups Sea-Watch and United4Rescue, as well as Doctors without Borders.
It is currently docked in Palermo in southern Italy.
The move comes as Italy has been struggling in recent months with daily arrivals of hundreds of migrants from North Africa, a task complicated by security measures imposed under the coronavirus crisis.
Inspectors made their decision after finding too many life jackets on board for a ship which has a sewage system that is unsuitable for the potential number of people rescued, said the groups.
“The flimsy justifications show once again that this was not an inspection serving the purpose of ship safety, but a systematic move to prevent civil sea rescue operations in the Central Mediterranean,” said Philipp Hahn, Head of Mission on Sea-Watch 4. “Even though the responsible authorities have asked us to assist in rescue operations, they are now blocking yet another rescue vessel.”
Migrant rescue groups have repeatedly clashed with Italian authorities over their operations.
Italy has come under fire in the past for refusing to allow private vessels carrying migrants to dock – former interior minister Matteo Salvini is facing a trial for illegally detaining migrants at sea.
However, Italy has authorised the arrival of charity ships since it signed a deal with France, Germany, and Malta last September.
The deal stipulates participants must voluntarily take in a share of asylum-seekers rescued from overcrowded boats in the Mediterranean.
Over the past five years, at least 19,164 migrants have died in the Mediterranean, the deadliest route for migrants attempting the perilous crossing from North Africa to Italy.
Meanwhile, thousands of people demonstrated yesterday in Berlin and other German cities, urging the European Union to take in migrants left without shelter after a fire destroyed their biggest camp in Greece.
The mask-clad protesters brandishing posters reading “Leave No One Behind” were joined in the German capital by the aunt of Alan Kurdi, the Syrian boy whose image became a tragic symbol of the 2015 refugee crisis after his body washed up on a Turkish beach.
“I decided to speak up and speak for those who can’t speak for themselves ... if I can’t save my own family, then let’s save the others,” said Tima Kurdi, urging people to write to politicians to push for action.
“We can’t close our eyes and turn our backs and walk away from them. People are people, no matter where we come from,” she added.
Sonya Bobrik of the activist group Seebruecke also stressed that “we have space” to take in more than the 1,500 refugees now in Greece that Germany has so far promised to welcome.
Police said that around 5,000 people turned up at the Berlin rally.
Similar gatherings were seen in Cologne, Munich and Leipzig.
In Paris, around 40 people carrying posters with slogans such as “No One Is Illegal” or “Asylum Is a Human Right” gathered to demand action.
“The situation in the camps is dire,” said protester Nikolai Posner, adding that France is not doing enough to welcome migrants.
Some 12,700 people were left homeless after a ferocious blaze laid waste to their Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos last week.
Since then, roughly 9,000 have been resettled at a new temporary site.
But the destruction of Moria, a notoriously overcrowded and dirty camp, strengthened calls from locals and humanitarian organisations for the migrants to be moved off the island.
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