Italy: Open Arms migrants arrive in Lampedusa

IMMIGRATION After 19 days on board, the 83 migrants rescued off Libya were able to get off the humanitarian ship

Après 19 jours à bord, plus de 80 migrants de l'Open Arms ont pu débarquer à Lampedusa le 20 août 2019.

There were smiles, cries of joy and songs. Migrants rescued in the Mediterranean by the humanitarian ship Open Arms landed on Tuesday evening on the Italian island of Lampedusa, in accordance with a court decision taken into account the high tensions on board after days of being on the spot a few miles from the coast.

After an inspection by the judicial police and two doctors, the prosecutor of Agrigento, Luigi Patronaggio, decided that the survivors should be landed on the small Sicilian island, even though Spain had just sailed a military ship to recover them. The prosecutor ordered the sequestration of the Open Arms, the Spanish humanitarian organization of the same name.

The vessel temporarily detained
Italian TV stations showed migrants getting off the boat moored in the port of Lampedusa on Tuesday late in the evening. The endless waiting in front of Lampedusa, which began on Thursday, caused desperate gestures from the migrants crammed on board the ship. On Tuesday, fifteen of them, some without lifejackets, threw themselves overboard in an attempt to swim to Lampedusa. According to an NGO spokeswoman, they were “rescued” by the Italian coastguard and brought to the island.

“After 19 days, we will disembark today in Lampedusa. The ship will be temporarily detained, but this is a cost that Open Arms bears to ensure that the people on board can be cared for,” tweeted the NGO’s founder, Oscar Camps, when he learned of the prosecutor’s decision.

19 days on board
The Open Arms migrants had been denied access to the island by the Italian authorities, although six European countries (France, Germany, Luxembourg, Portugal, Romania and Spain) had undertaken to receive them. Some of these migrants rescued off Libya by the NGO spent 19 days on board, equaling the record of migrants rescued by the SeaWatch3 in late December before their landing in Malta on 9 January.

The announcement of the landing caused explosions of joy on the boat, according to videos broadcast by people on board. The boat had 147 migrants on board when it arrived on Thursday near Lampedusa, and just over 80 after the evacuation of migrants who jumped into the water on Tuesday and several dozen miners or sick people in recent days.

Faced with the refusal of the outgoing Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini to let them disembark, Madrid ended on Tuesday by sending a military ship to Lampedusa to take direct charge of the migrants and bring them to Mallorca, about a thousand kilometres from Sicily.

The boat left Rota base at 18:30 for a three-day trip to Lampedusa. Joined by AFP, the Spanish government was not in a position to say whether it would turn back after the Italian court decision.

Salvini under investigation
The Italian prosecutor also took the decision to preventively sequester the Open Arms, in the context of an investigation against X for kidnapping people, omission and refusal of official acts, which Matteo Salvini claimed on Facebook that it directly targets him.

“If anyone thinks they’re scaring me with the umpteenth complaint and request for a trial, they’re wrong. It would be a joke to have managed to convince Spain to send a ship (to recover migrants) and now to work to have them land in Italy and have the Minister of the Interior tried who continues to defend the country’s borders,” he said on Facebook.

The Ocean Viking is looking for a port
This would leave only one humanitarian ship off the Libyan coast, from which makeshift boats with migrants on board regularly launch. The Ocean Viking, a boat chartered by the NGOs SOS Méditerranée and Médecins sans frontières, is also trying to land in a safe port for 356 migrants. He is currently in the northeast of Malta.

In the absence of a European consensus to receive migrants rescued by NGO ships, their fate is regularly the subject of long and difficult negotiations between States. French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said on Tuesday that France was ready to receive migrants from this ship “at the same level” in terms of proportion as those from the Open Arms, from which Paris promised to take in 40 people as part of a sharing between European countries.

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