Two charity boats, carrying a total of 140 migrants saved from Mediterranean waters, have been given permission to board and disembark their passengers in Italian ports after a number of EU nations agreed to take in some of the rescued migrants. However, there have also been more deaths at sea over the weekend.
The Italian interior ministry on Monday said in a statement that the Open Arms, which is operated by a Spanish charity Proactiva Open Arms, was instructed to take course to Italy’s south-eastern port of Taranto in Apulia province, located about 100 km south of the city of Bari. The vessel is carrying 62 rescued migrants and is excepted to arrive in Taranto Tuesday morning. A video on the Open Arms twitter feed shows migrants celebrating after hearing the news.
Meanwhile the second boat, the Aita Mari, was sent to the port of Pozzallo in Sicily, carrying 78 migrants on board, the ministry said. The Aita Mari is also run by a Spanish charity, which is called Salvamento Maritimo Humanitario (SMH).
EU redistribution mechanism at work
The Italian ministry added that the incoming migrants would be redistributed among the EU member states of Germany, France and Malta, while Italy would also take in some of them.
The collaboration between these four governments has intensified in recent weeks, after the same four nations agreed last weekend to share 213 migrants rescued by the Ocean Viking, which is operated by the SOS Mediterranee charity and Doctors Without Borders (MSF). Those migrants were taken to the port of Messina in Sicily.
In recent months, Germany, France, Italy and Malta have repeatedly been part of ad-hoc redistribution pacts in numerous instances of Mediterranean Sea rescues, while other EU member states have only agreed to join in as part of the more pressing rescues.
The four nations are also part of a binding EU redistribution agreement for migrants saved at sea finalized in September.
Shipwreck near Lampedusa
Rescue missions, however, don’t always manage to salvage migrants and refugees from precarious situations at sea. Last weekend, there was a deadly migrant shipwreck near the southern Italian island of Lampedusa.
While the Italian coastguard mangled to rescue 149 people, it also recovered seven bodies and is expecting to encounter more as survivors told Italian authorities that originally there were 170 people on board. The Italian ANSA news agency said that the search for the missing 16 migrants had been suspended at the beginning of the week because of adverse conditions at sea.
Lampedusa is often the first Italian port that migrants coming from northern Africa use to reach EU territory. The small island is situated 300 kilometers north of the Libyan coast and only 120 kilometers east of Tunisian territory: however, the vast majority of vessels heading to Italy depart from Libya.
According to UN figures, more than 1,000 migrants are believed to have drowned or gone missing while attempting to reach Europe from North Africa this year. More recently, however, the focus has somewhat shifted to deaths in the Saharan desert, as NGOs now believe that more people perish there than those who drown at sea.
With dpa, AFP, Reuters