More than 800 migrants leave ship in Italy after three-day wait at sea

About 55,000 have arrived in country since the start of the year

More than 800 migrants who were plucked to safety in the Mediterranean left a charity rescue boat in Sicily on Sunday, with most set to be transferred to two waiting quarantine ships.

Red Cross workers helped the migrants — some wrapped in blankets, many without shoes — off the Sea-Eye 4, which had begged Italy to allow it to dock after rescue operations.

Save the Children staff said they had been told there were about 170 minors aboard, but it was not yet clear how many were travelling with families and how many were unaccompanied.

Some of the migrants raised their arms in celebration and cheered as the red ship pulled into the port of Trapani in western Sicily. Others sat with their legs dangling over the side, looking tired and drawn.

It comes amid an increase in the number of migrants risking treacherous sea crossings into western Europe in recent months. Almost 55,000 have landed in Italy this year, compared with just under 30,000 last year, Interior Ministry figures show.

A UN body recently warned that the number of deaths has increased accordingly.

The International Organisation for Migration's Missing Migrants project estimated that at least 1,559 people have died or were reported missing in the Mediterranean Sea so far this year alone. It also estimated that more than 118,000 crossings had been attempted in that period, almost half of which involved boats being intercepted at sea.

The Sea-Eye 4 was already carrying almost 400 people who had been pulled to safety at sea when it raced to the rescue of another 400 crowded on to a wooden boat on Thursday.

It was given permission to dock hours after another charity delivered urgently needed relief supplies, including food and blankets, and after repeated appeals for help, the German group Sea-Eye told AFP.

After coronavirus tests, the adults without health problems were to be placed on quarantine ships.

The UN's human rights agency said on Twitter it was “relieved that once again Italy has welcomed people whose lives were in danger at sea, and who were saved by the fundamental work of NGOs".

Italy is one of the main points of entry to Europe for migrants sailing mainly from Libya and Tunisia, with tens of thousands of people seeking to cross the central Mediterranean each year.

Unlike between 2014 and 2017, when more than 90 per cent of migrants landing in Italy had set off from Libya, the arrivals are now “well distributed” between Libya and Tunisia, said Matteo Villa, from the Institute for International Political Studies.

More than 70 per cent of those setting off from Tunisia are Tunisian, while most people trying the perilous crossing from Libya are Bangladeshis who had been in the crisis-torn country for some time, Mr Villa said.

Meanwhile the Ocean Viking, a charity vessel run by SOS Mediterranee, was on Sunday still looking for a port after rescuing more than 300 people.

“As weather conditions deteriorate, the medical team expects an increase in health problems among the 306 castaways still on board,” SOS Mediterranee said on Twitter.

Updated: November 8th 2021, 1:22 PM
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