German charity ship takes more than 100 rescued migrants to Italy

Most who make it to Italy are fleeing poverty and risk having their asylum requests denied by authorities

The Sea Eye 4 rescue ship with 476 people on board enters the port of Messina, Italy, on June 22. EPA
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A ship operated by a German charity that rescued more than 100 migrants from two unseaworthy vessels in the central Mediterranean was sailing on Monday towards a northern Italian port.

Sea-Eye 4 plucked 68 migrants from a foundering smugglers’ vessel last week, then sailed on Saturday towards another vessel in distress.

The second rescue, of 45 migrants aboard a plastic boat, was carried out on Sunday night in waters in Malta’s search-and-rescue area, the charity Sea-Eye said.

Malta did not aid in the second rescue, and Italy ordered Sea-Eye 4 to head immediately to its northern port of Livorno without taking on additional migrants, the charity said.

But because “there were no other rescue vessels in the immediate vicinity, the Sea-Eye 4 remained in operation and continued to search for the people missing", the charity said.

During the 35 hours it took Sea-Eye 4 to get to the second vessel, it said it was in contact with two merchant ships in the Maltese search-and-rescue zone that agreed to help.

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Eventually, one of the two merchant ships reached the plastic boat first and aided in the rescue, Sea-Eye said.

It was not clear when the rescue ship would reach Livorno, the port assigned by Italian authorities for disembarkation.

Of the second rescue, Sea-Eye said, nearly all aboard were traumatised by their ordeal and migrants had burns from fuel spills.

“In total, the people were out at sea for six days and had to fear for their lives," the charity said.

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Human smugglers, many of them based in Libya, launch flimsy rubber or plastic dinghies and rickety fishing boats towards Italian shores, typically after charging the migrants thousands of dollars for the dangerous passage.

Most of those migrants who make it to Italy are fleeing poverty, not war or persecution, and thus risk having their asylum requests denied by Italian authorities.

Italy’s two-month-old government, led by far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, has said it wants to discourage charity rescue missions, contending that those operations essentially help the smugglers’ business.

For years, Italy has said that because many of the migrants hope to obtain work in northern Europe, other EU nations should host a large number of the rescued migrants who reach Italian shores.

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By assigning ports on the Italian mainland, instead of inSicily, hundreds of kilometres closer to the scenes of rescue, Italian authorities essentially force the charity boats to spend more days to reach the mainland docks and thus have fewer days to spend at sea aiding migrants.

A key partner in Ms Meloni’s coalition is the right-wing League, a party led by the anti-migrant Matteo Salvini.

Updated: December 20, 2022, 1:00 AM
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