Wed | Sep 18, 2019

EU to move evacuated migrants from Italy

Published:Thursday | August 22, 2019 | 12:23 AM
A man cries as he hugs a crew member after disembarking from the ‘Open Arms’ rescue ship on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, southern Italy, on Tuesday.
A man cries as he hugs a crew member after disembarking from the ‘Open Arms’ rescue ship on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, southern Italy, on Tuesday.

MADRID (AP):

The first steps to relocate migrants who were kept at sea by Italy for nearly three weeks began on Wednesday as a new crisis loomed with more than 350 rescued people still on board a rescue ship in high seas.

The Ocean Viking, which is operated by the Doctors without Borders and SOS Mediterranee aid groups, has been on standby since it completed the rescue of 356 men, women and children in the central Mediterranean Sea nine days ago.

The ship is currently in international waters, about 32 nautical miles from European shores between Malta and the Italian island of Linosa. Both countries have refused it permission to disembark.

The situation aboard the ship was under control, but SOS Mediterranee said that people are sleeping on the floor, with few showers and limited water capacity.

“These people have suffered enormously, most of them have gone through detention centres in Libya,” the group said on Twitter. “They need to disembark as soon as possible.”

France has pledged to take some of the migrants, repeating the model of an agreement earlier this week for some European Union members to accept a separate group rescued by the Open Arms, a vessel run by a Spanish aid group.

European countries have been at odds over how to handle the steady flow of economic migrants and asylum seekers who take the perilous journey across the Mediterranean, often putting themselves in the hands of trafficking mafias.

Despite the number of sea arrivals dropping sharply from 2015, Italy’s hard-line interior minister has become a symbol for Europeans who reject migration. Matteo Salvini has closed his country’s ports to humanitarian boats and has accused them of colluding with human traffickers.

That has boosted Salvini’s popularity at home, emboldening him to pull the plug on the uneasy governing coalition in a bid for new elections. More broadly, it has exposed the European Union’s (EU) disunity in dealing with the sea arrivals of migrants.

On Wednesday, Doctors without Borders and Amnesty International separately called on Europe to urgently find a solution to the repeated stand-offs with humanitarian rescue ships.