ROME, Nov 8 (Reuters) – A migrant rescue ship with more than 200 people on board headed to France on Tuesday after Italy refused it permission to dock as its new right-wing Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni attempts to crack down on migration across the Mediterranean.
Meloni’s two-week-old government has told charity vessels to take rescued people to other countries, although a long stand-off initially involving four boats showed signs of resolution on Tuesday as two were allowed to disembark their passengers.
“After Italy’s silence, we ask French maritime authorities to assign a port to the 234 survivors on the #OceanViking,” French charity SOS Mediterranee said, noting many of the migrants have been at sea for 18 days.
There was no immediate word from France on the request.
The situation “has reached a limit”, SOS Mediterranee representative Alessandro Porro said in a statement, adding that the Ocean Viking was expected to reach international waters off the French island of Corsica on Thursday.
It has spent the last few days off Sicily.
In a sign that Rome’s campaign against the non-governmental groups was having some impact, Spanish charity Salvamento Maritimo Humanitario said it would postpone a planned sea rescue mission due to the risk of its ship being seized by Italian authorities.
Humanitarian groups say Italy’s policies are likely to mean more migrant deaths, while Rome says if there are fewer charity boats to pick up those leaving the shores of Africa, there are likely to be fewer crossings and therefore fewer deaths.
Italy’s Transport Minister Matteo Salvini, head of the anti-migrant League party, cheered the development, tweeting: “Onwards like this. Italy will not be an accomplice of human trafficking. Is anyone starting to get this?”
‘UNDIGNIFIED POLITICAL GAME’
The two ships allowed to dock in Sicily over the weekend were only authorised to let the most vulnerable – mainly women and children – disembark, leaving about 250 onboard.
One of these ships, the Geo Barents run by France’s Doctors without Borders (MSF), received permission to disembark all its remaining passengers on Tuesday while the other, the German-run Humanity 1, was still held up with 35 people aboard.
Most of the passengers have been on hunger strike for two days, said SOS Humanity, the charity that runs the vessel.
Few details were available on where the migrants were from.
Rise Above, a fourth ship managed by German charity Mission Lifeline, was allowed into the port of Reggio Calabria on Tuesday, where all the 89 people it had picked up in the Mediterranean were allowed ashore.
“We are relieved that the rescued people are finally safe on land,” the group said in a statement, condemning what it called an “undignified political game” that had kept them at sea for about a week.
The United Nations agencies for migration and refugees appealed to Italy on Monday to let all the stranded migrants come ashore, adding that all “concerned states” should then take responsibility for the new arrivals.
Italy has seen a sharp increase in migrant arrivals this year, with almost 88,700 people landing in 2022 against 56,500 in the same period last year, official data showed. Around 15% of them were picked up by the charity boats.
Additional reporting by Crispian Balmer and Gavin Jones; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Josie Kao
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