Disembarkation is underway in Sicily for the 306 migrants on board the Ocean Viking. Meanwhile, the Italian prime minister says the country has reached its limits on the number of migrants it can accept.
Ocean Viking, operated by the private rescue organization SOS Mediterranée, has already begun disembarking some of the 306 migrants they had on board in the Sicilian port of Pozzallo.
According to SOS Mediterranée’s Communications and Advocacy Manager Julia Schaefermeyer, on Wednesday (July 6) morning, "the disembarkation of medical referral cases and unaccompanied minors has started." At that point, Schaefermeyer could not confirm exactly how many people had already left the ship, but said the process had definitely begun.
Some of the migrants have now been at sea for 12 days, tweeted SOS Mediterranée on Tuesday, July 5. The final rescue the crew carried out was on July 4, late in the evening, when 15 people, who had been adrift for at least two days in a rubber boat, were brought on board the Ocean Viking.
'Beaten' and scarred
One of those rescued, Samuel*, who is just 17 years old, talked to the Ocean Viking crew. He said he had been "beaten for three days by four Libyan guards" while in detention in Libya. Photos of his arm in the video showed large raised scars.
According to SOS Mediterranée, Samuel was rescued on June 26 on a boat along with 290 others. Samuel said that when in Libya, guards had taken him into "a house." One of the Libyans had a knife, said Samuel, others had "other weapons."
"They started beating us until we were on the floor. We couldn’t do anything, we were lying down and seriously ill," remembers Samuel. "I lost a lot of blood that day, my scars hurt. I myself stop in front of a mirror to look at them and I have tears in my eyes. I have done nothing to deserve this kind of life."
Samuel explained to the crew that in Libya "there are no laws. Everyone has weapons there." He said he had decided to cross the Mediterranean "to gain my freedom, because in Libya there is no freedom."
18 and nine-months pregnant
Ama*, 18, is a woman rescued by the Ocean Viking. On July 3, the SOS Mediterranée crew tweeted about her story. Ama is nine months pregnant. According to Marina, the midwife on board the Ocean Viking, Ama could give birth "at any moment."
Ama told the crew she too had left Libya because she did not want her child to be born in Libya. "I want my child to grow up in a country of freedom." Ama said there were three other pregnant women on board her boat. She said at one point the waves got so "huge" she feared she would drown as the boat began taking in water.
Another woman, Francine*, also on board the Ocean Viking, said that after more than two days at sea, she had run out of water and began to drink sea water until she became "very sick." She too feared she would die and said she is traumatized by her journey.
Escaped on sixth attempt
On June 28, a 24-year-old migrant, calling himself Moussa*, said that he had tried six times to escape Libya before finally being rescued on June 24 by the Ocean Viking. He said he had not been treated like a human in Libya. On one of the boats on which he attempted to escape, he said seven people had drowned when the boat capsized as they didn’t have life jackets.
Italy has 'reached its limits'
Meanwhile, the Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi declared on a visit to Turkey that his country has reached the limits of the numbers of migrants it can accept. Managing migration should be done in a "humane, appropriate and effective manner," said Draghi according to numerous Italian press reports and the German news agency dpa.
The Italian leader said that his country did everything it could to rescue migrants who got into difficulty in Italy’s waters.
According to the right-wing newspaper Il Giornale, Draghi said in his speech while meeting Turkish President Recip Tayip Erdogan, "What we have done is extraordinary. We have probably been one of the most open countries about rescuing migrants in our waters. But it needs to be understood that you can’t be open without limits." That limit has now been reached, stated Draghi.
The majority of migrants arrive in Italy from north Africa, however, a third route has now opened up from Turkey too. Some smuggling groups have decided to bypass Greece and sail direct to Italy from the eastern Mediterranean. Il Giornale reported that is also why Draghi decided to speak about immigration with the Turkish authorities. Draghi said he would be talking about the subject with his Greek counterparts too when he met them, Il Giornale reported.
Bangladeshis account for majority of new arrivals
The Italian Interior Ministry publishes the latest migrant arrival figures by sea regularly. On July 5, it said that 29, 369 migrants had arrived from across the Mediterranean between the beginning of January 2022 and July 5.
The numbers showed an increase on the same time period last year, 21,739 and 7,368 in 2020 when the first lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic meant that many countries' borders remained virtually closed for long periods of time.
At least 541 migrants reportedly arrived by sea on July 4 and 423 on July 5. People coming from Bangladesh account for the majority of arrivals (4,784) so far this year, with nationals from Egypt (4,767), Tunisia (4,127) and Afghanistan (3,287) close behind, the figures revealed.
According to the central-left leaning newspaper La Stampa, on July 6, European Union countries agreed to begin "the first redistributions [of migrant arrivals in Italy] by the end of the summer."
However, this so-called "solidarity mechanism" has been agreed on several times before, but not always carried out.
On June 10, the Italian Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese took part in a European Union conference in Luxembourg. According to the Italian news agency ANSA, the assembled interior ministers agreed on a first phase of agreements to manage asylum and migration.
The accords included "a solidarity mechanism to help the countries where migrants first enter," reported ANSA, as well as two regulations to help reinforce the EU's external borders.
Lamorgese said that the June agreements represented a step-forward to a "relevant strategy towards a European policy of shared management of migration flows inspired by a fair distribution based on the principles of solidarity and responsibility," ANSA reported.
*All names have been changed by SOS Mediterranée to protect identities