439 rescued migrants and refugees were allowed to disembark from the Geo Barents in Augusta, Italy, on January 29, 2022 | Photo: MSF
439 rescued migrants and refugees were allowed to disembark from the Geo Barents in Augusta, Italy, on January 29, 2022 | Photo: MSF

Nearly 440 migrants and refugees rescued by the Geo Barents in the Central Mediterranean have disembarked in Augusta, Italy. The rescue ship waited for days before being granted permission to dock.

All 439 passengers arrived in the port of Augusta, in the southern Italian region of Sicily, on Saturday (January 29).

"All survivors have disembarked from the #GeoBarents, now with a chance at accessing the healthcare, services and safety they need," Doctors Without Borders (MSF), the medical charity operating the Geo Barents, said on Twitter.

MSF had been assigned the port of Augusta on Friday after several days of waiting in the waters off Sicily.

Some of the migrants had been rescued 10 days prior to their disembarkation. The 77-meter long rescue ship became steadily fuller as the crew picked up more people but failed to get clearance to dock.

Rescue operations

The migrants were rescued in six separate operations – the first took place on January 19 when MSF took aboard 87 people from an overcrowded dinghy.

A day later, on January 20, MSF said that it had rescued 109 people after a morning of searching for their boat. MSF had reportedly received an alert from the distress hotline Alarm Phone that another large boat with migrants had left Libya and was in distress. Another 100 people -- the majority of them from Pakistan -- who had been "crowded on two levels of a very unstable wooden boat", according to MSF, were rescued later that day.

In the early hours of January 21, the organization rescued 67 people, reportedly mostly Bangladeshi nationals. Another 76 people, including 12 children, were taken aboard later that day.

A quarter of the rescued migrants were minors, according to the charity. All the boats had left from Libyan shores.

Migrants testify to abuse in Libya

Many of the migrants and refugees rescued by the crew of the Geo Barents were in need of medical and psychological support, according to MSF. The organization said that people were treated for malnourishment, mild hypothermia, seasickness and fuel burns. It also said that its staff had provided support to rescuees who were survivors of sexual abuse and violence. "But it is never enough. Nobody should be in this situation," the organization said on Saturday, according to the German news agency epd.

MSF posted several video statements and photos on its Twitter account in which migrants waiting on the deck of the Geo Barents testified that they suffered abuse in Libya. Jimmy* (name changed), a 25-year-old Senegalese, said that this was his fourth attempt to flee Libya. He said that during his third attempt he was caught at sea and brought to a prison in Libya, where he and other inmates were given toilet water to drink and he had to pay the guards to release him. According to Jimmy, the guards call the parents of migrants to extort money from them. "When in Libya, you get sick. Mentally sick. You don't know how to carry on."

Other rescue ships

Meanwhile, the crew of another rescue ship, the Aita Mari, took aboard 176 people from two boats in the Mediterranean on Friday, according to a Twitter account affiliated with the rescue ship.

On Sunday afternoon, the rescuees were given permission to disembark on the Italian island of Lampedusa, amid stormy weather and high waves, after initially being denied said permission. Among those rescued were reportedly 116 adult men, 18 adult women and 42 minors.

Separately, SOS Mediterranee reported on Thursday that its ship Ocean Viking was allowed to leave the Sicilian port of Trapani, after it had been blocked there by Italian authorities due to technical problems identified by the coast guard. The rescue ship is reportedly preparing to start a new mission.

Arrivals in Italy

In 2021, a total of 67,477 migrants arrived on Italian shores. In 2020, that figure was almost half, at 34,154.

According to the latest data from January 28, a total of 2,347 sea arrivals have been recorded in Italy since January 1, 2022. The top three countries of origin were Bangladesh (708), Tunisia (362) and Egypt (305).

The Central Mediterranean route is one of the deadliest migration routes worldwide. According to the UN migration agency IOM, at least 82 migrants have died or gone missing on this route so far this year.


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