The ship refuses to leave the Italian port until all the migrants have left

CATANIA, Sicily (AP) — The captain of a charity-run migrant rescue ship on Sunday refused an Italian order to leave a Sicilian port after authorities refused to let 35 of the migrants disembark on his ship — under the radical directives of Italy’s new far-right led government targeting foreign-flagged rescue vessels.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s two-week-old government is denying safe harbor to four ships operating in the central Mediterranean that rescued migrants in distress at sea, some up to 16 days ago, and will not allow than those identified as vulnerable to disembark.

On Sunday, Italy ordered the Humanity 1 to leave the port of Catania after disembarking 144 rescued migrants, including children, more than 100 unaccompanied minors and people with medical emergencies.

But her captain refused to comply “until all survivors rescued from distress at sea have been disembarked”, said SOS Humanity, the German charity that operates the ship. The ship remained moored in port.

Later on Sunday, a second charity ship arrived in Catania, and the verification process was repeated with the 572 migrants aboard the Geo Barents ship operated by Doctors Without Borders. By the end of the evening, 240 people had disembarked, the screenings to continue all night.

Families were the first to jump ship. A man cradling a baby expressed his gratitude, saying “Thank you, Geo Barents, thank you”, as he left. Another man in a wheelchair was carried away by Red Cross workers.

Two other boats run by non-governmental organizations remained stranded at sea with a port to send the people they rescued

Humanitarian groups, human rights activists and two Italian lawmakers who visited Sicily have protested the selection process as illegal and inhumane. Italy’s new interior minister, Matteo Piantedosi, is taking aim at non-governmental organisations, which Italy has long accused of encouraging human trafficking in the central Mediterranean. The groups deny the claim.

“Free everyone, free him,” Italian lawmaker Aboubakar Soumahoro said in a moving appeal to Meloni from the rescue ship Humanity 1, calling his government’s new policy “inhumane”.

The passengers faced “trauma, they faced everything that we can define as prolonged suffering,” said Soumahoro, who spent the night on the ship.

Later at the port, he accused Meloni of playing politics at the expense of “newborn babies, women, people who have suffered trauma of all kinds”, including torture in Libyan prisons.

He said neither translators nor psychologists were present during Italy’s screening process and many migrants came from rural Gambia, unable to speak French, English or Italian.

“Their fault is speaking another language. Their fault is having another color,” Soumahoro said, accusing the government of using migrants to distract from other issues, including high oil prices. energy.

Aboard Humanity 1, medics in Italy identified people in need of urgent medical attention after the ship’s doctor refused to make a selection, SOS Humanity spokesman Wasil Schauseil said. Thirty-six people were declared not vulnerable and were not allowed to disembark, causing one person to collapse and be evacuated by an ambulance.

“You can imagine the condition of the people. It’s very devastating,” he said.

SOS Humanité and Doctors Without Borders issued statements saying all of their passengers were vulnerable after being rescued at sea and deserved safe harbor under international law. SOS Humanity said it planned to file a civil complaint in Catania to ensure the 35 survivors on board have access to formal asylum procedures on land.

Doctors Without Borders stressed that “a rescue operation is not considered complete until all survivors have been landed in a safe place”.

Two other charity ships carrying rescued migrants have been stuck at sea, with people sleeping on floors and decks and spreading respiratory infections and scabies as food and medical supplies run low.

The German ship Rise Above, carrying 93 people rescued at sea, sought a more protected position in waters east of Sicily due to weather, but spokeswoman Hermine Poschmann said on Sunday the crew did not had received no communication from the Italian authorities.

Poschmann described the cramped conditions on the relatively small 25-metre (82 ft) vessel.

The Ocean Viking, operated by European charity SOS Méditerranée, with 234 migrants on board, remained in international waters, south of the Strait of Messina, and received no instructions to proceed to an Italian port, a spokesperson said Sunday. His first rescue was 16 days ago.

“The unrest is evident among the survivors,” a charity worker named Morgane told The Associated Press on Sunday. Cases of seasickness were also skyrocketing, after high waves rocked the ship overnight.

“Today the weather has deteriorated significantly, bringing strong winds, rough seas and rain to the deck. …these extreme conditions added suffering,” she said.

The divisive stance taken by Meloni’s government recalls the clashes orchestrated by Matteo Salvini, now Meloni’s infrastructure minister in charge of ports, during his brief stint in 2018-2019 as interior minister. The new Italian government insists that countries whose ships are run by charities must welcome migrants.

In a Facebook video, Salvini repeated his claims that the presence of aid boats encourages smugglers.

Non-governmental organizations reject this claim, saying they are bound by the law of the sea to rescue those in distress and that coastal nations are required to provide safe harbor as soon as possible.

Amnesty International called Italy’s position “shameful”.

“Italy legitimately expects other EU member states to share responsibility for asylum seekers, but this does not justify imposing measures that only increase the suffering of already traumatized people. “, said the group.

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Colleen Barry reported from Milan. Emily Schultheis contributed from Berlin and Angela Charlton from Paris.

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