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Ocean Viking: Sea change as Italy allows migrant rescue ship to dock

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By Orlando Crowcroft
Ocean Viking: Sea change as Italy allows migrant rescue ship to dock

Italy has allowed a vessel carrying 82 rescued migrants to disembark in Lampedusa, Sicily, in a reversal of policy just days after the new coalition government took power.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said on Twitter that six days since rescuing the migrants in the Meditteranean, its ship - the Ocean Viking - had been allowed to dock.

It marks the end of a long ordeal for the migrants onboard the vessel, which included 58 men, six women, 17 minors and a one-year-old child. On Wednesday a woman who was nine-months-pregnant and her husband were airlifted to Malta, where she gave birth.

The migrants had departed from Libya and been found in the Meditterenean earlier this week, some had suffered gunshot wounds and others were badly burned.

"I have already heard absolutely horrifying stories of violence, both physical and psychological. I've seen scars on their bodies from stab wounds. I've seen a gunshot wound," Yuka Crickmar, humanitarian affairs officer at MSF, said in a social media video post after the migrants were rescued.

The decision to allow the boat to dock comes after months of legal and political wrangling over migrant ships in Italy, which had been refused safe harbour under the former hardline interior minister, Matteo Salvini, and his populist coalition government.

Ocean Viking

It had been Salvni who, in August, had pledged to defy a court order and block a migrant vessel, Open Arms, as well as the Ocean Viking from docking in Italian waters.

But the collapse of Italy’s governing coalition and the ousting of Salvini, the leader of the far right League party, has led to a change in policy towards migrant vessels.

Salvini had hoped that the collapse of the coalition with the Five Star Movement would lead to new elections that could increase La League’s share of the vote. But instead, Five Star inked a coalition deal with the Democratic Party (PD) last month.

Giuseppe Conte, who stayed on as prime minister under the deal, has called for a “new humanism” after forming the government with Five Star’s Luigi di Maio.

A video published by the charity Saturday showed migrants cheering and clapping as NGO workers informed them of the decision.

Salvini, meanwhile, responded angrily to the news, writing: “The new government reopens the ports, Italy returns to the FIELDS OF REFUGEES from Europe.” Accusing ministers of “hating the Italians.”

Although he is no longer in government, Salvini and his anti-migrant stance has wide support in Italy, and La League are polling at around 37% of the vote.

NGOs estimate that as many as 2,000 migrants died trying to cross the Meditterenean in 2018.