Italy's hard line on migration has repeatedly left hundreds in limbo | Photo: Camilla Kranzusch/ROPI/picture-alliance
Italy's hard line on migration has repeatedly left hundreds in limbo | Photo: Camilla Kranzusch/ROPI/picture-alliance

The two vessels were allowed to dock amid bad weather despite antagonism from Italian authorities. Dozens of children were among the rescued survivors.

Two rescue boats arrived in ports in southern Italy on Sunday morning, carrying more than 500 people who had been rescued from the Mediterranean Sea.

The German-flagged Humanity 1, operated by the SOS Humanity NGO, arrived at the port of Bari in Italy's southeast while the Geo Barents ship, belonging to the charity Doctors without Borders (MSF), landed in the port of Salerno just south of Naples.

What more do we know about the ships and those on board?

The Geo Barents was carrying 248 migrants, of which 84 were children, mostly unaccompanied. They were welcomed by anti-racist activists carrying a banner reading "refugees welcome" in Salerno, according to the local Salerno Today news site.

Several people had to be airlifted before reaching land, including a woman who gave birth on the boat on Wednesday.

The Humanity 1 arrived in Bari with 261 rescued migrants on board. Italian authorities had referred it to the port on Friday but the journey took some 40 hours due to bad weather, including three-meter (9.8 feet) high waves that left many of the passengers seasick, the NGO said.

Italy's migrant policies in question

The arrival of the rescue boats in Italy comes less than two months after far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni took power in Italy.

The Italian far right has long demonized migrants and the head of Meloni's coalition partner, Matteo Salvini, is currently on trial for kidnapping after refusing to let a rescue ship disembark in August 2019 while he was serving as interior minister.

Last month, tensions flared between Rome and Paris after a French port took in a boat that had been turned away by Italian authorities.

Italy's interior ministry said the decision to allow the two boats to dock was down to bad weather conditions rather than marking any change in Italy's anti-migrant policies.

Thousands dying every year

The Mediterranean is one of the busiest migrant routes in the world with people fleeing war and poverty attempting to make the dangerous, and often deadly, sea crossing into Europe.

The UN's International Organization for Migration (IOM) has recorded just shy of 2,000 people who have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean this year. The real number is likely much higher.

There are no official state-run sea rescue ships operating in the sea despite it being one of the busiest areas for sea traffic in the world.

The job has been left to charities and NGOs who often face harassment from port authorities and coast guards. Activists have expressed scathing criticism of the EU for its so-called "Fortress Europe" policy that tries to prevent migrants from reaching member countries.

Activists from the Banksy-backed Louise Michel rescue operation describe how, "People on the move who seek their right to asylum have reportedly been exposed to push- or pull-backs, and violation of their basic human rights, a consequence of the border militarization."

Authors: ab/ar (EPD, Reuters)

First published: December 11, 2022

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