Italy allows only the vulnerable to disembark migrant NGO ships, orders captains to leave with adult males still onboard

Migrants stand on the deck of the Humanity 1 rescue ship run by the German organization SOS Humanitarian, at harbor in the port of Catania, Sicily, southern Italy, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Salvatore Cavalli)
By Thomas Brooke
4 Min Read

The Italian government has authorized women, children, and men with medical issues to disembark humanitarian NGO vessels currently docked in Catania, but has refused entry to the country for the remaining adult males on board.

A total of 144 people disembarked the Humanity 1 vessel on Sunday — the ship sails under a German flag and is operated by a German crew. A further 357 people on board the Norwegian-run Geo Barents ship.

However, 250 adult males were refused access to disembark the two vessels by Italian authorities, and Italy’s newly appointed Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi said that those who did not qualify as vulnerable must leave Italian waters and be assisted by the “flag state,” in this instance either Germany or Norway.

A further two vessels carrying hundreds of migrants each remain anchored off the Italian coast awaiting permission to dock.

The German captain of Humanity 1, however, is refusing to leave Catania with the remaining men on board, and the charity that funds the boat has commenced legal action against the Italian government.

“If I left now, I would violate an endless series of international laws and conventions here in the port of Catania,” said captain Joachim Ebeling to la Repubblica newspaper. “I am not doing anything illegal. I am following the law of the sea,” he added.

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The German captain accused the Italian authorities of conducting “an inhuman and illegitimate selection of the survivors based on an illegal decree.”

In a series of tweets on Sunday, the SOS Humanity charity revealed it would be taking legal action “against the decree of the Italian government and the prevention of the disembarkation of 35 rescued people from the Humanity 1!

“Italy’s actions violate European law and the Geneva Refugee Convention,” the charity added.

A diplomatic row ensued over the weekend between Germany and Italy after the new Italian government initially refused access to dock for three NGO ships with more than 1,000 people on board. Both Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi held firm, insisting that Italy would not continue to be a gateway for those wanting to reach the European Union.

Berlin had pressured the Italian foreign ministry, urging it to accept all migrants on board the German-registered Humanity I, to which Italy’s Minister for Relations with Parliament Luca Ciriani replied: “If Germany believes that there is a humanitarian problem, it should take care of it; Italy cannot become the refuge of all immigrants.”

Italy has long borne the brunt of the migration crisis due to its strategic geographic location; it has taken in more than 85,000 migrants since the beginning of the year, according to the UN.

Newly elected Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni ran on an anti-mass migration ticket in the general election held earlier this year. She placed the issue of migration at the heart of her government in her maiden speech to lawmakers at the Italian parliament.

“We must stop illegal departures and human trafficking,” Meloni said, while clarifying that her government does not intend “to question the right of asylum for those fleeing wars and persecution.”

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