Italy receives hundreds of migrants from German rescue ship

A rescue ship carrying 440 migrants has been allowed to disembark in Sicily, its operator said Friday, capping a year that saw more than 67,000 arrive on Italy's shores.

Migrants wait for assistances by Italian authorities in the port of Pozzallo, southern Sicily.
Migrants wait for assistances by Italian authorities in the port of Pozzallo, southern Sicily. Photo by Giovanni ISOLINO / AFP

“The Italian authorities have assigned the port of Pozzallo, Sicily as place of disembarkation for the Sea-Watch 3 (ship),” the German non-governmental organisation that runs it, Sea Watch, announced on Twitter.

“One week after our first rescue operation, the 440 rescued people on board will finally be allowed to go ashore.”

The rescue ship has been patrolling the sea off the Libyan coast since November 2017, one of several operated by non-profit groups to help often overcrowded and leaky vessels transporting migrants across the central Mediterranean into Europe.

Earlier this week, more than 500 migrants began disembarking in Sicily from the Geo Barents ship operated by Doctors Without Borders, after nearly two weeks at sea.

In total, 67,040 migrants have disembarked in Italy this year, according to interior ministry figures updated at 0700 GMT on December 31st.

This is a sharp increase on the 34,154 recorded last year, but well below the record set in 2016 of 181,436.

Across the wider region, the UN refugee agency estimates that 114,584 migrants have arrived by sea this year to Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain, in figures last updated on December 26.

The number of sea arrivals is greater than last year, with 95,031 recorded, but still far short of the over one million people who arrived by sea in 2015.

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Over 1,000 migrants rescued off Italian coastline arrive in Sicily

More than a thousand migrants arrived in Italy within a few hours while hundreds of others, rescued by humanitarian vessels, were waiting for a port to receive them, NGOs and authorities said.

Over 1,000 migrants rescued off Italian coastline arrive in Sicily

More than 600 people attempting to cross the Mediterranean on board a drifting fishing boat were rescued on Saturday by a merchant vessel and coastguards off Calabria, at the southern tip of Italy. They were landed in several ports in Sicily.

The authorities also recovered five bodies of migrants who had died in as yet undetermined circumstances.

On the island of Lampedusa, some 522 people from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia, among others, arrived from the late hours of Saturday in 15 different boats from Tunisia and Libya.

According to Italian media, the island’s reception centre has been overwhelmed.

With a capacity of 250-300 people, it currently hosts 1,200, according to the Ansa news agency.

Offshore NGOs continued to recover hundreds of migrants in distress in the Mediterranean.

SeaWatch reported that it had carried out four rescue operations on Saturday.

“On board SeaWatch3, we have 428 people, including women and children, a woman nine months pregnant and a patient with severe burns,” it said on its Twitter account.

Ocean Viking, operated by non-governmental organisation SOS Mediterranean, reported that it had recovered 87 people, including 57 unaccompanied minors, who were crammed onto “an overcrowded inflatable boat in distress in international waters off Libya”.

Between January 1 and July 22, 34,000 people arrived in Italy by sea compared with 25,500 during the same period in 2021 and 10,900 in 2020, Italy’s interior ministry said.

The Central Mediterranean migration route is the most dangerous in the world. The International Organization for Migration estimates that 990 people have died and disappeared since the beginning of the year.

After Italy signed an EU-sponsored accord with the Libyan government in February 2017 to keep migrants from making the crossing, the number of people arriving in the country by sea fell dramatically: from 119, 369 in 2017 to 23,370 in 2018, according to UNHRC data.

But human rights groups say the agreement was a Faustian one. The chance of dying in a Mediterranean sea crossing rose from one in 42 to one in 18 between 2017 and 2018, according to Human Rights Watch.

The widespread torture of migrants, including children, in Libyan detention centres, has been widely documented by independent researchers, as has a thriving modern day slave trade.

In 2018, seventeen survivors of a mass drowning incident filed an application against Italy with the European Court of Human Rights after an alleged attempt by the Libyan coastguard to interfere in a rescue mission by pulling migrants back to Libya resulted in the deaths of at least 20 people.

Italy’s Memorandum of Understanding with Libya was renewed for an additional three years in 2019. The accord is due to expire in February 2023, but will be automatically renewed for another three years unless cancelled by authorities.