Dozens of migrants prevented from disembarking in Sicily by the new Italian government

Italian authorities on Sunday prevented 35 migrants they did not consider “vulnerable” from getting off a boat in Sicily.

Since coming to power, Italy’s far-right government has taken a hard line against private maritime rescue vessels operating in Italian waters.

Humanitarian groups and two Italian lawmakers who traveled to Sicily have protested the selection process as both illegal and inhumane.

The procedure was part of a directive introduced by Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi as Italy again targets non-governmental organizations it has long accused of encouraging human trafficking in the central Mediterranean.

“Free everyone, free them,” Italian lawmaker Aboubakar Soumahoro said in a moving appeal to Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni from the Humanity 1 rescue ship in Catania, calling the new policy “inhumane”.

The passengers faced “a trauma, they faced everything that can be defined as prolonged suffering, hell,” he added.

Italian authorities have completed identifying vulnerable migrants on the German-operated Humanity 1 overnight and have instructed another boat with 572 migrants, the Geo Barents, to proceed to the port of Catania on Sunday for the same check. .

Two other boats run by non-governmental organizations remained at sea with no immediate change in status.

NGOs have noted that people are sleeping on floors and decks, fever-causing infections are spreading, and food and medical supplies are running out. Some migrants have been on the ships for more than two weeks.

Two Italian doctors began identifying people in need of urgent medical attention after the Humanity 1 doctor refused to participate in the screening process, SOS Humanity spokesman Wasil Schauseil said.

The group considers all passengers vulnerable by definition after being rescued at sea and deserving of safe harbor under international law.

Authorities first allowed three women and a baby off the ship, then a family followed by unaccompanied minors, who numbered more than 100.

The divisive stance taken by Meloni’s government recalls the clashes orchestrated by Matteo Salvini, now Meloni’s infrastructure minister in charge of ports, during his brief stint in 2018-2019 as interior minister.

The new Italian government insists that countries whose ships are run by charities must welcome migrants. In a Facebook video, Salvini repeated his claims that the presence of aid boats encourages smugglers.

Non-governmental organizations reject the government’s interpretation, saying they are bound by the law of the sea to rescue those in distress and that coastal nations are bound to provide safe harbor as soon as possible.

As aid-run boats are denied safe harbor, thousands of migrants have reached Italian shores over the past week, either alone in fishing boats or after being rescued at sea by Italian authorities . They make up 85% of all arrivals, according to the government.

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