Italy says migrants can disembark from rescue boat

New government breaks from era of hardline immigration measures pushed by Salvini

A rescued migrant is helped aboard the humanitarian ship Ocean Viking after being rescued at sea on Monday. Photograph: AP

A rescued migrant is helped aboard the humanitarian ship Ocean Viking after being rescued at sea on Monday. Photograph: AP


Italy’s new left-leaning government has authorised 82 migrants to disembark from an NGO rescue ship, marking a break from the hardline immigration measures of the former interior minister Matteo Salvini.

It is the first time this year that Rome has allowed the disembarkation of an NGO rescue vessel. Previously ships carrying migrants had been barred from Italian ports.

The Norwegian-flagged Ocean Viking, operated by the French charities SOS Mediterranee and Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), asked Italian and Maltese authorities on Wednesday for safe haven for its passengers.

The new coalition in Rome formed of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) and the centre-left Democratic party (PD) granted permission for them to disembark in Lampedusa, Sicily, on Saturday.


The decision follows an agreement with the European commission, which received a request on Wednesday night to coordinate the redistribution of migrants onboard the Ocean Viking among member states.

A plan for the passengers to be redistributed among other countries without having to land them in Lampedusa was also considered.

“Italian authorities have offered to the Ocean Viking a safe port to disembark,’’ the two charities tweeted. “MSF and SOS Mediterranee are relieved”.”

Italy’s new government, which won a vote of confidence in the senate on Tuesday – the final step needed to exercise its full powers – intends to draw a line under a crisis sparked by Mr Salvini, the far-right leader of the League.

Giuseppe Conte, on his second mandate as prime minister, had promised to revise the previous government’s anti-immigration policies, which provide for the closure of seaports to rescue vessels carrying migrants, the seizure of NGO boats and fines for ships that bring asylum seekers to Italy without permission.

NGO rescue vessels have been stranded at sea up to 20 days over the last 14 months because of the Mr Salvini’s measures. There have been 25 standoffs between rescue vessels and Italian authorities since Mr Salvini took office as interior minister in June 2018, according to the Institute for International Political Studies (Ispi).

Given the medical and psychological condition of their passengers, the ships have often broken the blockade and allowed them to disembark without permission.


In almost all cases, this resulted in the temporary seizure of the ship and heavy fines. Carola Rackete, the captain of Sea-Watch 3, was arrested in June after forcing her way into Lampedusa with 40 migrants on board. She risked ramming a navy vessel that tried to obstruct her entrance into the port. She was eventually released.

Germany and France are prepared to take in 25 per cent each of the migrants onboard the Ocean Viking. Other EU states including Italy will take the remainder.

Following a meeting with European council president Donald Tusk in Brussels on Wednesday, Conte said EU member states that refused to share the burden of the arrival of migrants should face financial penalties.

“Those who do not participate in the redistribution of migrants at the European level will feel the impact in a significant way in financial terms,” he said.

“The new government has opened again its seaports to migrants,” Salvini said on Twitter. “The new ministers must hate our country. Italy is back to being Europe’s refugee camp.” – Guardian