Italy's new government says migrants can disembark from rescue boat

An NGO rescue ship with 82 migrants onboard has been authorised to disembark in Italy by the new left-leaning government in Rome, marking a break from the era of hardline immigration measures pushed by the former interior minister Matteo Salvini.

It is the first time this year that Rome has allowed the disembarkation of an NGO rescue vessel without having to apply the entry ban.

On Wednesday, the Norwegian-flagged Ocean Viking, operated by the French charities SOS Méditerranée and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), asked Italian and Maltese authorities for a safe haven to disembark the passengers.

The request was finally granted on Saturday by the new coalition in Rome formed of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) and the centre-left Democratic party (PD).

The decision follows an agreement reached at European level with the European commission, which, on Wednesday night, received a request to coordinate the redistribution of migrants onboard the Ocean Viking among member states.

“Italian authorities have offered to the Ocean Viking a safe port to disembark,’’ said MSF on Twitter. Six days after they were rescued from the Mediterranean, the 82 migrants will disembark in Lampedusa (Sicily). “MSF and SOS Méditerranée are relieved,” the tweet added.

Italy’s new government, which won a vote of confidence in the senate on Tuesday – the final step needed to exercise its full powers – aimed at drawing a line under a crisis sparked by Salvini, the far-right leader of the League.

Giuseppe Conte, who is on his second mandate as prime minister, had promised to revise the anti-immigration policies introduced by the previous government that provide for the closure of seaports to rescue vessels carrying migrants, the seizure of NGO boats and fines for ships that brought asylum seekers to Italy without permission.

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For over 14 months, NGO rescue vessels, saving lives in the Mediterranean, have been stranded at sea up to 20 days because of the Salvini’s hardline anti-immigration measures. Since June 2018, when he took office in Rome as interior minister, to date, there have been 25 standoffs between rescue vessels and Italian authorities, according to the Institute for International Political Studies (Ispi).

Often, due to the medical and psychological emergency of the migrants on board, the ships have broken the naval blockade imposed by Italy and landed migrants without permission.

In almost all cases, this has resulted in the temporary seizure of the ship and heavy fines. Last June, Carola Rackete, captain of the NGO rescue vessel, Sea-Watch 3, was arrested after forcing her way into the port of Lampedusa with 40 migrants on board. Rackete risked ramming an Italian military ship that tried to obstruct her entrance into the port. The captain was eventually released.

Germany and France are prepared to take in 25% each of the migrants on aboard the Ocean Viking. The remaining passengers will be redistributed among other EU member states, including Italy.

On Wednesday, in Brussels, following a meeting with the European council president, Donald Tusk, Conte, said EU member states that refused to share the burden of the arrival of migrants should face financial penalties.

“Those who do not participate in the redistribution of migrants at the European level will feel the impact in a significant way in financial terms,” he said.


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