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Migrants jump off rescue boat to try to reach Italian island

Monday, August 19, 2019

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ROME, Italy (AP) — Several migrants jumped into the sea from a Spanish rescue boat yesterday in a thwarted bid to reach shore in Italy, where the Government's hard-line interior minister, Matteo Salvini, has refused to let the 107 passengers disembark.

“We have been warning for days; desperation has its limits,” said Open Arms founder Oscar Camps, who released a video showing four migrants wearing orange life vests swimming toward Lampedusa island. Crew members from the humanitarian group's ship swam quickly toward them so they could be brought back aboard.

In the evening, Open Arms urgently requested permission to enter Lampedusa's port so the migrants, aboard for 17 days, could finally get off. It said their psychological and physical conditions are “at risk”.

“If the worst happens, Europe and Salvini will be responsible,” the charity said in a tweet.

In its formal request made by the boat's captain, Marc Reig Creus, Open Arms also offered an alternative solution: to transfer the 107 onto another, “adequate” ship that could swiftly reach the Spanish port of Algeciras, where Spain has said the migrants could disembark, given the dramatic situation of passengers and crew.

Open Arms told Italian authorities, including prosecutors, that the situation aboard “has become unmanageable”, adding that the migrants are “prey to frequent anxiety and panic attacks”.

Salvini has denied docking permission because he contends charity rescue boats essentially facilitate the smuggling of migrants from the traffickers' base in Libya. Salvini's resolve has seen previous similar stand-offs end with disembarkation either ultimately taking place in Italy or elsewhere in Europe.

Yesterday Spain offered one of its ports for the migrants to come ashore but Open Arms said it would be absurd to undertake a journey, that could take perhaps a week, with the migrants.

For days, Open Arms has been anchored off Lampedusa, a fishing and vacation island between Sicily and northern Africa. The boat initially had 147 migrants aboard when it reached Italian waters. In the last few days, 40 migrants have transferred by Italian coast guard vessels to Lampedusa, including a few who were ailing and 27 believed to be minors.

After the migrants who had jumped from the ship were back aboard, several female migrants wailed or pressed their hands to their head as if in disbelief. A few of the male migrants could be seen gesturing and shouting angrily, while crew members tried to calm tempers.

With Salvini challenging the survival of Italy's populist government in a push for an early election he hopes will give him the premiership, the minister is hardening his already stiff resolve to keep humanitarian ships from bringing rescued migrants to Italy. His League's party blames migrants for crime, and its popularity among voters has been soaring.

A Norwegian-flagged ship, Ocean Viking, operated by two French humanitarian groups, has been sailing for days, with 356 rescued migrants aboard, between Malta and Lampedusa and an other tiny Italian island, Linosa, awaiting assignment of a safe port. Salvini vowed to block that ship, too.

“Whoever hangs tough wins,” Salvini said. “In Italy there's no place for traffickers.”

Open Arms carried out its first rescue of this group 17 days earlier, plucking migrants to safety from smugglers' unseaworthy dinghies off Libya.


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