60 people disembarked from the Geo Barents in Augusta on September 29 | Photo: MSF
60 people disembarked from the Geo Barents in Augusta on September 29 | Photo: MSF

The Geo Barents rescue ship, run by the medical charity Doctors without Borders (MSF), docked in a Sicilian port on Wednesday and disembarked the 60 migrants it had rescued just over a week earlier.

The 60 migrants rescued by MSF disembarked from the Geo Barents in the Sicilian port of Augusta on Wednesday morning (September 29) after undergoing mandatory COVID-19 testing by Italian health authorities, the medical charity wrote on Twitter.

The news agency Associated Press (AP) later reported that everyone on board had tested negative for the coronavirus. The 60 migrants included a seven-week-old baby as well as six women and 21 unaccompanied minors who were taken to start their quarantine at centers on land near the port. The rest of the group was taken on board another ship, a quarantine ferry, to begin their period of mandatory quarantine.

The migrants were rescued from two separate boats in the Mediterranean on September 20.

Migrants wait for the results of their COVID-19 tests onboard the Geo Barents at the port of Augusta in Sicily, Italy, on September 29, 2021 | Photo: AP Photo/Samy Magdy
Migrants wait for the results of their COVID-19 tests onboard the Geo Barents at the port of Augusta in Sicily, Italy, on September 29, 2021 | Photo: AP Photo/Samy Magdy

'Severe distress for people on board'

The day before the disembarkation, MSF had tweeted that the mental health of people on board the Geo Barents was deteriorating, after waiting eight days (at the time) to be assigned a port at which to disembark. The charity quoted one of their psychologists, Hager Saadallah, who said that the feelings of hope on being rescued had "been replaced by fear, despair, anxiety and insomnia."

Saadallah added that "the uncertainty about the disembarkation process causes severe distress for people on board." An MSF nurse, Mary-Jo Frawley on board the Geo Barents, likened the feeling migrants had experienced at sea to "being stuck in a packed subway in the dark. No one is coming to help. You are growing desperate, claustrophobic. This is exactly what people feel on the boats at sea. They dream of safety but end up in this horrific situation."

According to AP, the migrants had set off from the Libyan coastal town of Zawiya. MSF tweeted at the time of their rescue that "most of the survivors are suffering from mild fuel exposure and some of them have sustained small injuries on the boat in distress."

A migrant with his 7-week-old baby onboard the Geo Barents at the port of Augusta in Sicily, Italy, on September 29, 2021 | Photo: AP Photo/Samy Magdy
A migrant with his 7-week-old baby onboard the Geo Barents at the port of Augusta in Sicily, Italy, on September 29, 2021 | Photo: AP Photo/Samy Magdy

'Will to survive'

The nurse, Mary-Jo Frawley, also tweeted a picture of several young migrants on board from Somalia, Ivory Coast and Togo looking at a map of Africa and seeing how far they had traveled to reach the place where they are now. She commented that the young migrants were "shocked" when they saw the distance but that they had a "will to survive."

When the migrants were told they would be disembarking in Augusta, Sicily, many "cheered and danced while others broke into tears when they saw the shore," reported AP.

This is the Geo Barents' third mission in 2021. Since June, AP reported it had already brought 792 migrants to Sicily. After completing its own mandatory quarantine period, the crew hopes to set off on a further mission in ten days, according to MSF.

So far this year, according to data from the UN refugee agency UNHCR, by September 26, 44,212 people had arrived in Italy by sea. That is almost double the number of people who arrived in the same period in 2020.

The majority of those who have arrived this year come originally from Tunisia 28% followed by people from Bangladesh 13.4%. The majority of arrivals set off originally from Libya, with Tunisia following not far behind.

Archive image of the arrival in Lampedusa of a boat with Tunisians on board, on April 12, 2020 | Photo: ANSA / ETTORE FERRARI<br>
Archive image of the arrival in Lampedusa of a boat with Tunisians on board, on April 12, 2020 | Photo: ANSA / ETTORE FERRARI<br>

Lampedusa 'needs structural intervention'

On September 28, more than 700 migrants arrived on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa in the space of just a few hours. 686 people on board a crowded former fishing boat. Many of those migrants came from Morocco, Syria, Bangladesh and Egypt, women and children were among the group, although the majority were men.

The mayor of Lampedusa Salvatore (Toto) Martello has often spoken out about how many on his small island feel left alone by both the national Italian government and other European states who might worry about the reception system and how to cope with initial arrivals but are not, in his opinion, doing enough to address the wider problems of immigration.

On Thursday, September 30, MSF released a press release saying that Lampedusa "needed structural intervention in order to guarantee a dignified reception system to people who had just disembarked, in particular those most vulnerable."


MSF, which is present on the island, said that in just two months they had helped the local authorities with 11,000 people. The doctor leading the MSF team on Lampedusa, Dr Stella Egidi, said that not only were there not adequate structures in place to deal with those who have suffered traumatic experiences but also that overcrowded and unhygienic conditions inside the hotspot on the island were making the physical and mental health of those staying in the centers worse.

One young man from sub-Saharan Africa wrote to an MSF psychologist that "if we hadn’t spoken by phone yesterday I would have died of anxiety."

The problems on Lampedusa, say MSF, have been "present for decades." They feel that help on the island is being offered in an "emergency setting" rather than setting in place more permanent structures to address the reality of the situation.

With AP and a feature written by Samy Magdy on board the Geo Barents

 

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