World

Migrants allowed ashore in Italy despite ban

A group of 41 rescued migrants have disembarked from a charity ship in Italy, a day after the captain defied a ban on docking in the country.

Despite warnings, the Alex sailed to the port on Saturday because of “intolerable hygienic conditions” aboard.

The migrants have now all come ashore after hours of waiting under guard.

Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini had earlier vowed he would not allow migrants to disembark.

“I saw that the German government wrote me a letter today asking to reopen the ports and to let all the migrants disembark,” he said on a Facebook live stream. “No, no, no, absolutely not.”

Last year, he closed Italian ports to rescue ships and Italy has introduced fines for anyone sailing into its waters without permission.

Migration charity Mediterranea, which runs the Alex, posted an image of the group coming ashore.

Authorities came aboard the Alex shortly after midnight to announce they were seizing the ship and opening an investigation into the captain for aiding illegal immigration, Mediterranea said.

The charity had earlier tweeted that its exhausted crew were living through a “surreal situation”, and prolonging the wait was “an unnecessary cruelty”.

“It’s an unbelievable situation,” spokeswoman Alessandra Sciurba said at the quayside. “There are people at risk of fainting, the toilets are not working. It’s as though we are kidnapped.”

“Nothing is happening about disembarkation and nobody knows what will happen.”

Meanwhile, another NGO ship, the Alan Kurdi – operated by German charity Sea-Eye – announced it was now sailing to Malta after following the Alex towards Italy.

Italy has been one of the main destinations for migrants attempting to reach Europe via the North Africa route, mostly from Libya.

People smugglers often load inflatable dinghies and other craft unsuited to the journey with dozens of people, many of which end up adrift and in need of rescue.

Mr Salvini, from the right-wing League party, takes a hardline stance against migrants and rescue ships – something that has seen both his and his party’s popularity increase.

In February, it was reported that Italy had rejected a record 24,800 asylum applications between October 2018 and January.

And a poll published in the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera on Saturday said 59% of Italians approved of Mr Salvini shutting Italy’s ports off to NGO-run vessels. –BBC

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