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Hundreds of migrants in limbo as Italy closes ports to NGOs

Rescued people resting on the floor of the open deck aboard the Ocean Viking.
Rescued people resting on the floor of the open deck aboard the Ocean Viking. Copyright AFP
Copyright AFP
By Euronews with AP
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NGOs have condemned Italy's decision to block its ports to humanitarian vessels, as hundreds of migrants remain stranded at sea waiting for safe passage.

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Italy's new right-wing-led government on Friday adopted a measure formalising the closure of its ports to rescue ships run by humanitarian groups.

However, more than 1,000 rescued migrants are now stranded aboard four ships run by European charity organisations in the Mediterranean Sea. Some migrants have been at sea for more than two weeks amid deteriorating conditions onboard.

Humanity 1 and Rise Above, run by separate German humanitarian groups, sought permission to dock at Italian ports. Humanity 1, carrying 179 migrants, has received permission to disembark minors and people needing medical care. But the Rise Above's request for a port for its 93 passengers has so far gone unanswered.

And two other ships, the Geo Barents with 572 migrants and the Ocean Viking with 234, have also repeatedly asked permission to access a port to disembark the rescued migrants.

Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi said that Humanity 1, run by the German organisation SOS Humanitarian, would be allowed in Italian waters only long enough to disembark minors and people in need of urgent medical care.

The measure was approved after Germany and France each called on Rome to grant a safe port to the migrants and indicated they would receive some of the migrants so Italy wouldn't bear the burden alone.

No such provisions have been offered to the other three ships.

Italy’s new government is insisting that countries whose flag the charity-run ships fly must take on the migrants.

Speaking at a news conference late Friday, Piantedosi described such vessels as “islands” that are under the jurisdiction of the flag countries.

Infrastructure Minister Matteo Salvini, known for his anti-migrant stance, cheered the new directive in a Facebook video.

"We stop being hostage to these foreign and private NGOs that organise the routes, the traffic, the transport and the migratory policies," Salvini said.

Non-governmental organisations stridently opposed the ruling and said that Italy is obligated by the law of the sea to rescue people in distress, no matter how they learn of their plight, and that coastal nations are obligated to provide a safe port as soon as is feasible.

The posture adopted by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's new government marks a return to the anti-NGO position adopted by Salvini, now a deputy premier, when he was interior minister from 2018 to 2019.

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