Two non-profit migrant ships carrying a total of nearly 280 migrants have docked in Sicily this weekend after Italian authorities gave them the green light.
The decision from Italy’s left-wing government comes despite the country continuing to grapple with deep economic and social fallout from the coronavirus crisis.
The German non-profit organization Sea-Watch’s ship containing 211 migrants picked up in the Mediterranean Sea in recent days was permitted to dock in the port of Porto Empedocle.
It was the first ship that has been allowed to dock in Italy since the country closed its ports to migrants due concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.
The migrants will have to spend a mandatory two-week quarantine aboard the Moby Zaza ferry.
On Saturday evening, the Italian ship Mare Jonio of the non-profit initiative Mediterranea, which had 67 migrants on board, arrived in another Sicilian port of Pozzallo.
Our 211 guests left the #SeaWatch3 yesterday evening and boarded Moby Zazá. A #COVID19 test came back negative. We hope that after the quarantine the people will be able to decide on how to continue their journey and we wish them good luck and strength ? pic.twitter.com/RUPEZifXtK
— Sea-Watch International (@seawatch_intl) June 22, 2020
After three-month long break forced by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ocean Viking, operated by the SOS Méditerranée, is preparing to launch rescue operations at sea.
Departure from the port of Marseille was originally planned on Saturday, but thwarted due to bad weather, the AFP agency wrote.
The ship sailed on Monday morning from the port of Marseille and is now heading for Libyan waters, where it will assist migrants who find themselves in a crisis in the Mediterranean Sea. Strict rules have been introduced on board to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Critics say the NGO ships encourage more dangerous migration
Most of the ships participate in rescue of migrants, but critics of the operations say that the ships encourage more migrants to take the risky journey under the belief that they will be saved by the NGO ships. Migrants sometimes also call NGOs, which will issue an SOS signal on behalf of the migrants even if their ship is not in immediate danger.
In an article published in Die Welt in February of this year, political editor Marcel Leubecher acknowledged that most of the migrants headed to Europe in boats across the Mediterranean are not genuine refugees, and this fact often leads them to having little chance of having their asylum applications approved.
“Contrary to popular belief, the majority of those arriving in Italy are not refugees. The main countries of origin for boat migrants in January were Algeria, the Ivory Coast, and Bangladesh,” Leubecher wrote.
League party leader Matteo Salvini has criticized the government for allowing ships to dock in Italy and warned this month that 20,000 migrants are planning to leave from Libya for Europe. During his tenure as interior minister, he banned the ships from bringing migrants to Italian soil.
UPDATE. The #OceanViking has set sail from Marseille to the #CentralMediterranean. Teams have undergone a 14-day quarantine and extensive preparations to operate in the context of COVID-19. Qualified and experienced medical staff is now part of the onboard @SOSMedIntl crew. (1/2) pic.twitter.com/JzrP96hRdP
— SOS MEDITERRANEE (@SOSMedIntl) June 22, 2020
According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), by mid-May this year, the number of people leaving Libya for Europe has increased by 120 percent compared to the same period last year.
This year, more than 8,300 migrants sailed from the shores of Libya, last year it was about 3,700. In total, over 22,000 people crossed the sea to one of the European countries this year, with almost half of them heading to Greece.
As Remix reported, the number of migrants arriving in the European Union increased sharply in May after a decline in previous months caused by the coronavirus pandemic. In May, authorities recorded almost 4,300 illegal border crossings on Europe’s main migration routes, about three times as many as in April, according to the latest data published by Frontex, the European Border, and Coast Guard Agency.
Title image: Migrants are photographed for identification as they disembark from the rescue ship Sea-Watch 3, which was carrying 47 migrants, as it docked at the Sicilian port of Catania, southern Italy, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019. Europe’s latest migrant standoff came to a conclusion Thursday as 47 migrants kept at sea for nearly two weeks while Italy pressured European countries to take them in finally disembarked from their rescue ship in Sicily. (AP Photo/Salvatore Cavalli)