According to rescuers and an Italian politician, Italy has permitted a rescue ship carrying 179 refugees and migrants to dock in a port on the island of Sicily and start removing children and sick or “vulnerable” persons.
However, on Sunday, the far-right administration of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni remained defiant in her refusal to grant requests for safe harbour from three more ships carrying almost 900 people who were trapped in neighbouring waters due to bad weather.
The Humanity 1, a vessel operated by the German charity SOS Humanity, said that it had received instructions from Italian authorities to arrive at the port of Catania in order to land minors and adults in need of medical care. However, the Humanity 1 disputed the government’s decision to separate “vulnerable” refugees and migrants, arguing that the fact that everyone on board had been saved at sea sufficed to qualify them for a safe harbour under international law.
Aboubakar Soumahoro, the only African-American member of the lower house of the Italian parliament, greeted the Humanity 1 in the port of Catania and criticised the government’s decision to bar NGO ships from entering ports as a “shame.”
“Right now, in the port of Catania there is a selective disembarkation underway,” Soumahoro tweeted. ”Worn bodies of castaways already exhausted by cold, fatigue, trauma and torture are considered objects by the government of Giorgia Meloni.”
Humanity 1 will only be permitted in Italian seas long enough to offload minors and adults in need of immediate medical attention, according to Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi on Friday. The legislation was agreed upon after Germany and France both urged Italy to provide a safe port for the refugees and migrants, and both countries said they would accept some of the asylum seekers so that Italy wouldn’t have to shoulder the entire burden alone.
For the other three ships, no such arrangements have been made available. The German-run Rise Above and the Norwegian-flagged Geo Barents entered Italian waters east of Sicily this weekend to seek shelter from storm-swollen seas, but neither vessel received permission from Italy or a reaction to multiple requests for a safe port. Together, they were carrying 572 refugees and migrants.
The SOS Mediterranee-operated Ocean Viking, which had 234 migrants and refugees on board, lingered in international seas south of the Strait of Messina. It also received no responses to its requests for ports.
The 572 survivors have been waiting for a safe spot to unload for 10 days, according to Juan Mattias Gil, chief of mission with the Doctors without Borders-operated Geo Barents.
Humanity 1’s operator, SOS Humanity, claimed to have submitted 19 requests for a safe port, all of which went unanswered. According to Till Rummenhohl, the group’s chief of operations, the boat was transporting 100 unaccompanied youngsters as well as newborns as young as seven months.
Rummenhohl reported from the rescue ship that the children “are having a lot of mental health issues.” “They saw people drowning in front of them, relatives and friends.”
He said this before the Italian government decided to let the ship dock: “The nights are getting cold, rain hits us, winds hit us and the people are sleeping on deck … We can provide these people with food, blankets, clothes, water and basic medical support. But we’ve been doing this already for two weeks and it’s clear that we cannot provide them with any safety which they would need being rescued at sea.”
He continued: “Our supplies will last till the beginning of next week. Then, we will run out of food.”
The new Italian administration is demanding that nations whose flag the charity-operated ships fly accept the refugees and migrants. Piantedosi defined such vessels as “islands” that fall under the control of the flag countries while speaking at a news conference late on Friday.
Most of the refugees and migrants arrived in Europe via Libya, where they embarked on unseaworthy vessels in search of a better life, frequently suffering mistreatment at the hands of human traffickers.
Hundreds of refugees and migrants have arrived at Italian coasts over the past week, whether on their own in fishing boats or after being saved at sea by Italian authorities, while the humanitarian-run boats are being barred access to a secure port. The oil ship Zagara, which also carried two dead, carried 59 of the 147 people who landed in Augusta on Saturday.
With 93 passengers crammed onto a relatively small 25-m (82-foot) boat, the situation on the Rise Above, run by the German NGO Mission Lifeline, was reportedly extremely dire.
Passengers saw land and were perplexed as to why they were not docking, which created a “pretty critical scenario that… led to very big tensions,” according to spokeswoman Hermine Poschmann.
Clemens Ledwa, the head of mission on board, urged the ship to reach a port of safety right away, noting the poor weather and the small ship’s capacity.
“This is not a wish. This is everyone’s right,’’ he added Friday night.