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Italy: Rescue ship impasse ends as migrants come ashore

November 9, 2022

About 500 migrants stranded at the Italian coast on rescue ships were allowed to disembark. Another ship was sent to France, but the situation sparked tensions between the countries.

People disembarking the Geo Barents rescue ship in Sicily
People stranded on rescue ships were permitted on land after a dayslong standoff with the Italian governmentImage: Massimo di Nonno/AP Photo/picture alliance

Hundreds of migrants stuck in limbo on the Italian coast were allowed to enter Europe on Tuesday, after several ships were permitted to unload their passengers in Sicily.

Another ship traveled further to France, after causing diplomatic tensions between Paris and Rome.

Standoff ends for hundreds stranded on rescue ships

The migrants were rescued by charity ships in the Mediterranean Sea while making the dangerous crossing from North Africa to Italy.

The Italian government, which is led by the far right, had kept the boats waiting for several days, allowing only those in medical distress to come on land.

The 89 migrants on board the German sea rescue charity Mission Lifeline's ship, Rise Above, were finally allowed to come on land on Tuesday.

The 35 migrants on the German rescue ship SOS Humanity, most of whom had started a hunger strike over the Italian government's initial refusal, were also allowed to disembark. The organization had been planning legal action action against Italian authorities.

Hours after that, more than 200 remaining migrants were allowed to disembark from the rescue ship Geo Barents.

Italian authorities had examined the people on board and decided to allow them to come ashore on humanitarian grounds, said Riccardo Gatti of the organization Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

Doctors, psychologists and translators provided help to people coming ashore. An urgent asylum application had been filed with a court in Catania for dozens of people who had been stuck on board.

The charity groups said the people on board were suffering from acute psychological stress. Two people from Syria had attempted jumping into the water, before being pulled out. They then refused food and water, said MSF.

Tensions between France and Italy

The standoff also sparked a diplomatic row between Rome and Paris, as one boat traveled further to undock in France.

After appealing to Italy unsuccessfully since October 27 to dock, the Ocean Viking, run by SOS Mediterranee, sailed to Corsica with 234 migrants on board.

Italy's new, far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni thanked France for opening their port to the ship, prior to any confirmation by the French authorities. 

Meloni and French President Emmanuel Macron agreed on the deal Monday night during the COP27 UN climate summit in Egypt, Italian news agency AGI reported.

"We express our heartfelt appreciation for France's decision to share responsibility for the migration emergency, which until now has remained on the shoulders of Italy and a few other Mediterranean states," Meloni said in a statement. 

SOS Mediterranee later said the group had received no confirmation from French authorities that the ship could dock. A French government source told AFP the behavior of Italy in the matter was "unacceptable, contrary to the law of the sea and to the spirit of European solidarity."

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi said Monday that Rome was acting "with humanity but firmly based on our principles."

tg/rs (dpa, AFP)

Italy's hard line on migration leaves hundreds in limbo