Migrant rescue ship docks at Italian port
A total of 82 immigrants have disembarked in Italy, marking the end of hardline measures pushed by the former far-right interior minister, Matteo Salvini, who chose to remove his party from government.
The migrants were transferred from the Norwegian-flagged rescue boat Ocean Viking, operated by the French charities SOS Méditerranée and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), to a coastguard vessel and taken to Lampedusa (pictured), Italy’s southernmost island.
“We are very happy with the news. It amazes us,” said a migrant on board, Myriam Annie Malang. “We are arriving at a place where people understand and listen to us.”
Malang said she was beaten while detained in Libya, which is common in the failed state. She said she was fleeing conflict between English- and French-speaking communities in Cameroon.
A deal with the European Commission means most of those onboard will be relocated to France, Germany, Portugal, Luxembourg and other EU states.
Italy’s new government – between the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) – won a vote of confidence in the senate last Tuesday and now intends to make a break from Salvini’s populist ban on migrant arrivals.
Italy’s new foreign minister, Luigi Di Maio, leader of M5S, the coalition’s largest party, cautioned against concluding his government was softening its stance on private rescue boats.
“I believe there’s a big misunderstanding about a safe port given to Ocean Viking,” Di Maio told the media. “It was assigned a port because the EU adhered to our request to take the great share of the migrants.”
Italy and Malta say that they bear disproportionate responsibility for immigrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea as they are the closest European Union states to Libya, from where most smuggler boats mainly depart.
Giuseppe Conte, on his second term as prime minister, has promised to relax migration policies, which closed ports to rescue ships, seized NGO vessels and imposed fines for ships that arrived in Italy with migrants without permission.
Salvini, now in near irrelevance in opposition, told a rally in northern Italy that the German captain of another charity rescue vessel, the Sea Watch 3, should face prosecution.
Salvini said Carola Rackete, 31, was “a pampered communist” and “someone who nearly killed five soldiers while on duty”.
Rackete was arrested in June and held for several days after the Sea-Watch 3 hit an Italian police speedboat while trying to sock in Lampedusa despite a ban from entering Italian waters.
Her arrest was overturned by an Italian court and she was released although her ship was seized.
Picture credit: Wikimedia