Dozens of African refugees remain stranded off Sicily on the German aid ship Cap Anamur. Fished from the Mediterranean two weeks ago, Italy has refused to let them land. Now Rome's parliament may decide their fate.
The Cap Anamur saves those in trouble at sea
Italian opposition parliamentarians are calling on Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu to allow the aid ship to enter the Sicilian harbor Empedocle to facilitate medical aid for those on board.
Two weeks ago the 37 Sudanese refugees were plucked from the sea off the coast of Malta. The German ship then set sail for the closest harbor - on the southern Italian island of Sicily. Initially the crew believed there would not be a problem, said Cap Anamur director Elias Bierdel.
“We did everything according to the book, asking for entry into the harbor and initially we got the go ahead. But when we arrived we were held up by gun boats and helicopters. I felt reminded of a maritime battle," Bierdel said.
While the German aid organization claims that no reason was given for the authorities' change of heart, Italian sources say that the information on the identity of the refugees was insufficient. Cap Anamur has deplored the delay, saying that the ship could be rescuing other people instead of waiting for the resolution of this particular problem.
“We are a humanitarian organization. We have a ship and we are trying to save lives. We are very surprised to find the European Union now uses gun boats to prevent us from doing that," Bierdel said.
Dozens of illegal immigrants attempt to cross the Mediterranean from northern Africa to southern Europe each day – many of them die trying. An estimated 5,000 African immigrants drowned on the sea crossing in the past year alone.
"There are so many people in need and we don’t get the impression that the Italian or Spanish or Greek coastguards are inclined to do anything to help them," said Bierdel.