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German rescue ship enters Sicilian port and disembarks minors

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By COLLEEN BARRY and EMILY SCHULTHEIS Associated Press

MILAN (AP) — Italy allowed a humanitarian rescue ship carrying 179 migrants to enter a Sicilian port and begin disembarking children Sunday morning, while refusing to respond to safe harbor requests from three other ships. carrying 900 more people in nearby waters.

Italy’s new far-right government has closed its ports to rescue ships operated by non-governmental groups and insists that the countries whose flag the ships fly must take in the migrants. It granted Humanity 1 only access to the port to disembark minors and people who needed medical attention.

Officials from the German-run charity that operates the Humanity 1 challenged Italy’s decision to single out “vulnerable” migrants, saying they were all rescued at sea and that alone qualifies them for a safe harbor under international law. .

Italy’s only black lawmaker in the lower house, Abourbakar Soumahoro, met with Humanity 1 in the port of Catania and denounced the government’s closure of ports to NGO ships as a “shame”.

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“Right now, a selective landing is taking place in the port of Catania,” Soumahoro said on Twitter. “Worn bodies of castaways already exhausted by cold, fatigue, trauma and torture are considered objects by the government of Giorgia Meloni.”

Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi said on Friday that the Humanity 1 would only be allowed in Italian waters long enough to disembark minors and people in need of urgent medical attention.

The measure was approved after Germany and France called on Italy to provide a safe harbor for the migrants and indicated that they would receive some of the migrants so that Italy would not bear the burden alone.

No such provisions have been offered to the other three ships. The Norwegian-flagged Geo Barents, carrying 572 migrants, and the German-run Rise Above, carrying 93, entered Italian waters east of Sicily this weekend to seek protection from storm-tossed seas, but received no Italy’s consent or a response to repeated requests for a safe harbor.

The Ocean Viking, operated by the European charity SOS Mediteranee, with 234 migrants on board, remained in international waters, south of the Strait of Messina. Requests for a port have also not been answered?

“We have been waiting for 10 days for a safe place to disembark the 572 survivors,” said Juan Mattias Gil, chief of mission of the Geo Barents, operated by Doctors Without Borders. The head of the operation, Riccardo Gatti, said that as well as suffering from skin injuries and respiratory infections, many on board were stressed from the prolonged period at sea.

SOS Humanity, which operates Humanity 1, said it had made 19 requests for safe harbor, all without response. The boat was carrying 100 unaccompanied minors, as well as babies as young as 7 months, she said.

Italy’s new government insists that countries whose flag is flown by boats run by charities must accept migrants. Speaking at a news conference on Friday night, Piantedosi described those ships as “islands” that are under the jurisdiction of the flag countries.

Infrastructure Minister Matteo Salvini, known for his anti-immigrant stance, applauded the new directive he signed with Italy’s defense and interior ministers.

“Let’s stop being hostage to these foreign and private NGOs that organize the routes, the traffic, the transportation and the migration policies,” Salvini said in a Facebook video, repeating his claim that the presence of the boats encourages smugglers.

Non-governmental organizations reject that interpretation, saying they are bound by the law of the sea to rescue people in distress and that coastal nations are obligated to provide safe harbor as quickly as possible.

“The decree of the Italian Minister of the Interior is undoubtedly illegal,” says Mirka Schaefer, head of defense at SOS Humanity. “Pushing back refugees at the Italian border violates the Geneva Convention on Refugees and international law.”

Most have traveled through Libya, setting out on unseaworthy boats in search of a better life in Europe, often facing abuse from human traffickers along the way.

While humanitarian ships are denied a safe port, thousands of migrants have washed up on Italian shores over the past week, either alone on fishing boats or rescued at sea by Italian authorities. On Saturday, 147 arrived in Augusta, including 59 on the Zagara oil tanker, which was also carrying two bodies.

The situation at Rise Above, operated by the German NGO Mission Lifeline, was said to be particularly desperate, with 93 people crammed aboard a relatively small 25-meter (82-foot) boat.

Spokeswoman Hermine Poschmann described a “very critical situation that… caused very great tensions” on board, because passengers saw land and did not understand why they were not docking.

The ship’s chief of mission, Clemens Ledwa, demanded a safe harbor immediately, citing bad weather and the small ship’s limited capacity.

“This is not a wish. This is everyone’s right,” he said Friday night.

Emily Schultheis reported from Berlin.

Follow AP’s global migration coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/migration

Copyright 2022 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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