Italy allows boat carrying 558 migrants to dock after sea rescue

Another boat is waiting offshore for permission to land with 440 more migrants

Migrants arrive aboard the rescue vessel 'Sea-Eye 4' at Pozzallo, southern Sicily, on December 24. AFP
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Italy on Tuesday allowed a charity boat carrying hundreds of migrants rescued at sea to dock in the Sicilian port of Augusta, while another vessel carrying 440 waited offshore for permission to land.

The Geo Barents ship, run by charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF), took on board 558 people, mainly Africans, in eight separate operations off the coast of Libya in the last 11 days, the charity said.

They include 174 minors and a woman who is eight months pregnant.

The German charity boat Sea Watch 3 is also seeking a port to disembark 440 migrants it rescued in recent days in the Mediterranean, including women and young children.

“The weather deteriorates … Everyone has the right to disembark, now,” Sea Watch wrote on Twitter.

Italy has seen a sharp increase in boat migrants in recent months with the government struggling to secure an agreement with European Union partners over how to deal with the influx.

As of December 28, 66,482 migrants have reached Italy so far this year, compared with 34,134 in the same period of 2020, interior ministry data show.

Also on Tuesday, Italy's foreign minister Luigi Di Maio discussed clandestine migration with Tunisian President Kais Saied, in his first visit to the North African country since the president's July 25 power grab.

The minister praised Tunisian efforts to stem the flow of irregular migrants, according to a statement on the presidency's website.

Mr Saied pointed out “the limits of traditional policies in managing the phenomenon of clandestine migration".

He called for new strategies to encourage “regular migration according to mechanisms that respect the rights of migrants".

Italy is a key entry point to the European Union for migrants from across Africa, with tens of thousands boarding rickety boats each year from Libyan or Tunisian shores in search of better lives in Europe.

In May, Italy's Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese visited Tunisia and announced a deal offering the country economic aid in exchange for extra efforts to stop migrants reaching Italy.

Several Tunisian civil society groups marked Mr Di Maio's visit with a press conference to demand answers over the death of a Tunisian migrant who had arrived in Sicily in October.

Wissem Ben Abdellatif, 26, died after being detained in a centre for migrants to be repatriated.

“The living conditions in these centres respect neither human dignity nor basic hygiene standards, especially during the pandemic,” said Romdhane Ben Amor, of the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights.

He said Tunisia had “turned into the coastguard”, stopping some 26,000 migrants reaching Italy in 2021.

Ahmed Mssedi, a member of Avocats Sans Frontieres (Lawyers without Borders), accused Italian authorities of “forcing migrants to sign documents they don't understand".

Italian authorities say Tunisian citizens make up the majority of migrants who set out from Tunisia.

Updated: December 28, 2021, 9:23 PM
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