Banners to welcome migrants after search-and-rescue ship Geo Barents of MSF, with 237 migrants onboard, docks at the port of La Spezia, Italy, January 28, 2023 | Photo: EPA / LUCA ZENNARO
Banners to welcome migrants after search-and-rescue ship Geo Barents of MSF, with 237 migrants onboard, docks at the port of La Spezia, Italy, January 28, 2023 | Photo: EPA / LUCA ZENNARO

The community of La Spezia, in Italy's northwest, is offering help to 237 migrants who arrived at the weekend after being rescued from the Mediterranean. Among the migrants are 87 children, some of them traveling alone.

La Spezia has welcomed with open arms the 237 migrants rescued by the NGO rescue ship Geo Barents, giving them food, clothes as well as toys for the children. The local chapter of Catholic charity Caritas coordinated efforts, helped by numerous volunteers, distributing aid provided by many across the Liguria city and serving meals prepared by a local restaurant.

'A generous response from the city'

"The city gave a generous response" with people bringing jackets, warm clothes, and food, said Father Luca Palei of Caritas La Spezia on January 28. Before being sent to a reception facility, the migrants needed adequate care, he added.

Palesi said he did not know what the outcome would be for the Geo Barents, which is operated by humanitarian medical charity Doctors Without Borders. The ship rescued the migrants in three different operations, in spite of a new Italian decree stating that rescue ships must reach the port they have been assigned by authorities as soon as they have carried out the first rescue.

"It is a complicated topic, but this won’t probably be the only trip we will see here in La Spezia" of a migrant-rescue vessel, "therefore we must be prepared," he added. The Geo Barents was assigned the northwestern port last week.

Human warmth

Palesi explained that we have "200 volunteers divided into two teams, one at Terminal 1 and the other on Calata Artom" in the port of La Spezia. "Here we have 15 people on call and six others in Calata. We also organized shifts at night."

He said part of the terminal would be dedicated to unaccompanied minors while another part would be reserved to everybody else. "We found 170 cots. We have involved educators, psychologists and others who carry out this service on a daily basis. At the same time, we have the cold weather emergency, and last night we also provided shelter to a few homeless people."

The priest went on to explain that volunteers at the port’s Terminal 1 will offer support and shelter with "human warmth" to new arrivals before they are sent to hosting centers by bus.

"We brought food, tea and other hot drinks, and water. We will give a small kit to everyone with cookies, savory food, water, juice, two sandwiches with tuna or cheese, to respect all religious sensibilities. We have contacts with restaurateurs who are friends and who are available to provide hot meals. We also received toys and stuffed animals for the children," he stated.

Restaurant provides over 180 meals a day

Over 180 portions of spicy rice with tomato and chicken were provided for lunch on Sunday, January 29, to Caritas by a restaurant in La Spezia for the migrants who had arrived on the Geo Barents. Silvia Cardelli, chef of Osteria della Corte, who donated the meals with daughter Celeste to Caritas, said: "Why do it? Why not? We got up a little earlier and we cooked. We think it’s the right thing to do, some people don’t know in the morning whether they will eat while we don’t know what to eat: I try to teach this to my children every day."

Many refugees have worked in her restaurant, including Kassim, who came from Ghana "just like these kids" on the Geo Barents. "Today he has become my second chef. He is a really bright young man," stressed Cardelli.

On January 29, a demonstration was organized by Amnesty International in front of the former Terminal 1 and when buses carrying migrants from piers to the centre of first hosting, demonstrators raised banners saying 'Welcome', 'We are all migrants', and 'People before borders'.


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