ROME (AP) – Italy on Friday gave permission for a second humanitarian group’s ship to disembark its passengers at an Italian port, seemingly softening its hard line against European-flagged vessels that rescue migrants in the Mediterranean Sea.
Italian authorities told the crew of the Geo Berents, chartered by the French group Doctors Without Borders, to head toward Salerno, near Naples, with its 248 migrant passengers.
Already, a mother who gave birth on board on Wednesday, the baby and three siblings had been evacuated, the group said.
Doctors Without Borders said it would take around 24 hours in rough seas to arrive but that the designation of a port was “a relief for the children, women and men who went through harrowing experiences since leaving their countries of origin”.
Earlier Friday, Italy allowed the German-flagged Louise Michel, which is funded and decorated by the street artist Banksy, to disembark its 33 passengers in Sicily.
In a tweet, the Louise Michel said the passengers had been rescued from a small wooden boat two days earlier.
“We wish them all the best for the future, and hope they will be better welcomed by civil society than by Europe’s violent border regime,” it said.
Soon after coming to power in September, Italy’s right-wing government of Premier Giorgia Meloni had argued that the flag countries of rescue ships are responsible for taking in the migrants and that Italy would no longer be the de facto port of automatic entry.
Rome said it would only allow migrants deemed “vulnerable” to disembark. That policy drove a diplomatic standoff with France last month over the fate of the Ocean Viking and its 234 migrants.
Italy refused the rescue ship port for weeks, forcing France to take it in. Paris retaliated by suspending its participation in a European Union solidarity pact to accept 3,000 relocated migrants this year from Italy and reinforced its southern border crossings.
The aid groups and legal experts had argued the Italian policy contradicted international law and maritime conventions, which require rescued people to be disembarked as quickly as possible in the nearest port of safety.
A third ship is currently off Sicily awaiting port = the Humanity 1, operated by the German aid group SOS Humanity, with some 261 people on board.
“No place of safety has yet been allocated despite multiple requests. Meanwhile, the weather is worsening,” the group said in a statement.