Migrants in limbo again after landing in Italy | 2019-08-22

Migrants in limbo again after landing in Italy

22 August, 2019 12:00 AM printer

LAMPEDUSA: Eighty-three migrants who disembarked on Italy’s Lampedusa island were again in limbo on Wednesday as a European deal to redistribute them failed to materialise and Madrid said it could hit the Spanish charity with a hefty fine for rescuing them, reports AFP.

The prospect of a fine comes after a protracted standoff between the Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms and Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini finally came to an end. The boat had spent six days anchored off Lampedusa before a local prosecutor ordered the migrants be allowed to land amid a probe of Salvini for forbidding their entry to port.

Many of them had spent 19 days on board the ship after being picked up while in difficulty trying to make the perilous journey from Libya to Europe in small boats. As they walked down the gang plank one by one to the island’s shore overnight, some could be seen limping or in bandages.

Salvini, whose Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned in protest at the League leader’s bid to bring the government down, had forbidden all NGO rescue boats from entering Italian ports.

The last remaining charity vessel operating in the Mediterranean, the Ocean Viking, was on Wednesday still seeking a safe port for its 356 rescued migrants.

The ship operated by French charities SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has been holding its position for 10 days between Malta and Lampedusa, asking for a safe port.

“As maritime law stipulates, we’ve been asking Italian and Maltese search and rescue coordination centres for a safe port since we made our first rescue on August 9,” said Frederic Penard, head of operations for SOS Mediterranee.“For the time being we’ve had no reply from Italy and a rather negative one from Malta,” he told AFP by phone.

The Open Arms on Wednesday sailed to Porto Empedocle on Sicily where the prosecutor ordered it temporarily seized as part of his investigation.

Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo told Spanish radio, “the Open Arms doesn’t have a permit to rescue.”

The vessel had in April been authorised to leave Barcelona, where it was immobilised for three months, to transport humanitarian aid to Greece. It was banned from heading to the seas off Libya, often the launchpad for migrants attempting to reach Europe, but went anyway.

A document from the directorate-general for Spain’s merchant navy sent to AFP by the Proactiva Open Arms charity said it risks a fine of up to 901,000 euros ($1 million) for violating this ban.