Migrant Ship Stranded Off Italy in ‘Crisis,’ Aid Group Says


ROME — An aid group operating a search-and-rescue ship that has been stranded off the coast of Italy for weeks with more than 100 migrants on board said on Sunday that the situation had become a “full humanitarian crisis.”

The group sounded the alarm even as Spain and France offered to allow some or all of the migrants to disembark.

About 150 migrants, most of whom are African, were picked up by the Spanish aid ship Open Arms on Aug. 1 off the coast of Libya. The vessel has been waiting ever since to dock on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa, but Italy’s far-right interior minister, Matteo Salvini, has refused to let the migrants come ashore.

On Saturday, Italy partly relented, allowing unaccompanied minors to disembark in Lampedusa. On Sunday, the Spanish government offered to take in the more than 100 remaining migrants. But the charity operating the boat, Open Arms, said the situation was far too critical for them to risk the long journey to Spain.

Four migrants have jumped into the sea, hoping to swim the three miles from the ship to Lampedusa, according to Laura Lanuza, a spokeswoman for Open Arms. They were rescued by crew members and taken back onboard the stranded ship.

“They have been sleeping, living and doing everything on the deck, with only two bathrooms for over 100 people. This is not human,” she said.

A video posted on Twitter by the founder of Open Arms, Oscar Camps, showed the desperate migrants making a swim for the shore. He wrote, “We warned a few days ago: Desperation has its limits.”

In a separate Twitter post, Mr. Camps noted that in offering to let the boat dock at Algeciras, the Spanish government was offering “the farthest-away port of the Mediterranean.”

The Spanish offer came as France, too, said on Sunday that it would take in some of the migrants. Olivier Gerstlé, a spokesman for the French interior minister, said on Sunday that France had offered to take in 40 migrants from the Open Arms rescue ship as part of a distribution agreement among European countries.

He stressed that the migrants must be “in need of protection,” fulfilling the criteria for refugee status. Mr. Gerstlé said that once the ship had docked in a port, a team would be sent to select the 40 migrants.

The offers came during a confrontation between aid groups and Mr. Salvini, who sees Open Arms and another ship called the Ocean Viking — carrying 350 asylum seekers, of whom 103 are said to be minors — as floating campaign ads for his hard-line approach.

On Wednesday, an Italian administrative court ruled against Mr. Salvini’s order to block access for the refugees on the Open Arms ship. He responded by issuing a new order the same day, denying the ship permission to dock. Even so, it sailed into Italian territorial waters the next day.

Ms. Lanuza, the Open Arms spokeswoman, said that after 17 days at sea, the refugees needed to disembark urgently and could not afford another sailing trip of about six to seven days to reach Algeciras, the southern Spanish port where the Socialist government of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has proposed to welcome them.

“I have ordered to prepare Algeciras to receive Open Arms,” Mr. Sánchez said in a post on Twitter on Sunday morning.

But Ms. Lanuza said it would be “crazy” to accept the offer, adding, “We are in a state of extreme necessity, and it would take at least six days to reach Algeciras.”

With 120 migrants and a crew of 17 still onboard, the ship was overcrowded and in emergency mode, she said.

On Saturday, a medical team sent by Italian prosecutors from the city of Agrigento confirmed that the medical and psychological conditions of the migrants on the ship were imperiled, but that was not enough to persuade Italian authorities to let them disembark.

In June, a protracted standoff played out off Lampedusa between a rescue ship carrying about 40 migrants and the Italian government, and ended with the arrest of the captain, Carola Rackete. The authorities had accused the ship, the Sea Watch, of ramming a patrol vessel and putting the lives of officers at risk, but the captain denied it.

Mr. Salvini has said that arrivals by sea had dropped by 84 percent from last year, and 97 percent from 2017, part of a broader decline of migration to Europe. According to the Interior Ministry, fewer than 3,000 migrants have arrived in Italy by sea this year.

Of the 70.8 million displaced persons worldwide, only a small fraction arrive in Italy and elsewhere in Europe, according to Filippo Miraglia of the Arci Association, a nongovernmental group that deals with migrant and refugee issues.

Source : Nytimes