Nearly 440 migrants and refugees rescued by the Geo Barents in the central Mediterranean have disembarked in Augusta, Italy. The rescue ship waited for days for permission to dock.
All 439 passengers arrived at the port of Augusta in the southern Italian region of Sicily on Saturday (January 29).
“All survivors have left the #GeoBarents and are now free to access the medical care, services and security they need,” Doctors Without Borders (MSF), the medical charity that runs the GeoBarents, said on Twitter .
MSF was assigned to the port of Augusta on Friday after waiting several days in the waters off Sicily.
Some of the migrants had been rescued 10 days before their disembarkation. The 77-metre rescue ship filled up as the crew picked up more people but was not given clearance to dock.
The migrants were rescued in six separate operations – the first took place on January 19, when MSF rescued 87 people from an overcrowded inflatable boat.
A day later, on January 20, MSF said it had rescued 109 people after spending a morning searching for their boat. MSF had reportedly received a notification from the Alarm Phone emergency hotline that another large boat carrying migrants had left Libya and were in distress. Another 100 people – most of them from Pakistan – who were “crammed on two levels of a very unstable wooden boat” according to MSF, were rescued later in the day.
In the early hours of January 21, the organization rescued 67 people, reportedly mostly Bangladeshi nationals. Another 76 people, including 12 children, were taken on board later that day.
A quarter of the rescued migrants were minors, according to the charity. All boats had left the Libyan coast.
Migrants testify to abuse in Libya
Many of the migrants and refugees rescued by the Geo Barents crew needed medical and psychological support, according to MSF. The organization said people were being treated for malnutrition, mild hypothermia, seasickness and fuel burns. It also said its staff had assisted rescue workers who had been victims of sexual abuse and violence. “But it’s never enough. Nobody should get into this situation,” the organization announced on Saturday, according to the German Press Agency epd.
MSF published several video statements and photos on its Twitter account in which migrants waiting on the deck of the Geo Barents testified that they had been mistreated in Libya. Jimmy* (not his real name), a 25-year-old Senegalese, said this was his fourth attempt to flee Libya. He said he was caught at sea on his third attempt and taken to a prison in Libya, where he and other inmates were given toilet water to drink and he had to pay the guards to release him. According to Jimmy, the guards call migrants’ parents to extort money from them. “When you’re in Libya, you get sick. Insane. You don’t know how to continue.”
Other rescue ships
Meanwhile, the crew of another rescue ship, the Aita Mari, took 176 people aboard from two boats in the Mediterranean Sea on Friday, according to a Twitter account linked to the rescue ship.
On Sunday afternoon, rescuers were given permission to disembark in stormy weather and high waves on the Italian island of Lampedusa after initially being refused permission. Those rescued reportedly included 116 adult males, 18 adult females and 42 minors.
Separately, SOS Mediterranee reported on Thursday that its ship Ocean Viking was allowed to leave the Sicilian port of Trapani after being blocked there by Italian authorities over technical problems identified by the Coast Guard. According to reports, the rescue ship is preparing for a new mission.
Arrival in Italy
In 2021, a total of 67,477 migrants arrived on the Italian coasts. In 2020, that number was almost half at 34,154.
According to the latest data of January 28, since January 1, 2022, a total of 2,347 sea arrivals have been registered in Italy. The three most important countries of origin were Bangladesh (708), Tunisia (362) and Egypt (305).
The Central Mediterranean Route is one of the deadliest migration routes in the world. According to the UN migration agency IOM, at least 82 migrants have died or disappeared on this route so far this year.