28th May 2023

Italy seeks EU help on migrant boat arrivals

Italy is pressing the EU to help find a solution when it comes to sea rescues of migrants and refugees, an issue that has evaded and divided member states for years.

Italy's interior minister Luciana Lamorgese on Wednesday (4 August) demanded an EU home affairs meeting on the issue, noting over 30,000 people landed on its shores by boat so far this year.

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The request also comes as NGO rescue vessels Ocean Viking and SeaWatch 3 seek to disembark some 800 people, including women and children.

In a call with EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson on Wednesday, she said the issue "cannot be addressed solely by Italy and other countries whose borders coincide with the EU's external borders."

Italian media reports she wants a mandatory redistribution of migrants to other EU states - a request that is likely to be ignored given the deep political divides among capitals over such demands.

She is also requesting other EU states temporarily open their ports to European-flagged NGO rescue boats.

But the issue has already developed into a standoff, leaving those rescued by the NGOs in precarious conditions.

In a tweet on Wednesday, the NGO SOS Mediterranee, which charters the Norwegian-flagged Ocean Viking, said it still has yet to receive any instructions on where "to disembark the 553 survivors in a place of safety."

Sea-Watch International, another NGO, made similar comments given the 257 people on its Sea Watch 3 boat.

"The health condition of our guests is deteriorating. Many are dehydrated and seasick," they said, also on Wednesday.

Such standoffs appear designed to discourage NGOs. National authorities also tend to impound the boats via lengthy administrative and technical inspections.

Among them is the Geo Barents, run by Doctors without Borders (MSF), which had been forcibly docked for 24 days in a port in Sicily before being allowed to set sail earlier this week.

Italy's right-wing League party leader Matteo Salvini has seized on the issue, demanding Lamorgese act to stop the landings.

"The prime minister is aware that this pace of landings can't be sustained," he said of Italy's premier Mario Draghi.

EU heads of state and government in June had discussed migration at a summit in Brussels.

But their overall focus remained on preventing departures from taking place, piling on pressure on countries of origin and transit.

Among them is Libya, where Lamorgese is scheduled to have talks with its leadership. Italian lawmakers had also over the summer renewed its funding for Libya's coast guard.

NGOs rescue around 800 people in Mediterranean

The NGO rescue vessel Ocean Viking has 555 people onboard, while Sea Watch 3 has 250. The rescues come as the Libyans intercept over 1,000 people in two days, while another boat in Malta's search-and-rescue zone pleas for help.

On board with SOS Méditerranée

NGO sea-rescue mission exposes reality of EU 'values'

The NGO search-and-rescue vessel Ocean Viking was the only civilian ship at sea. In the span of just four days, it saved nearly 600 people - often in a race with an aggressive Libyan coast guard.

On board with SOS Méditerranée

Ocean Viking's largest ever rescue - witnessed first-hand

The Norwegian-flagged Ocean Viking search-and-rescue vessel saved 369 people on a boat in the middle of the night, some 80 nautical miles off Libya. EUobserver was onboard and witnessed the rescue first hand, in this exclusive by Nikolaj Nielsen.


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