A ship belonging to an NGO heads towards Italy’s Lampedusa island.—AFP
A ship belonging to an NGO heads towards Italy’s Lampedusa island.—AFP

MILAN: A German humanitarian group said its ship carrying 42 migrants rescued off Libya two weeks ago has entered Italian waters near the southernmost island of Lampedusa at midday on Wednesday in defiance of an explicit ban by the country’s hard-line interior ministry.

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini responded, saying he wouldn’t allow any of the migrants to disembark, and threatened to deploy law enforcement.

“The right to defend our borders is sacred,” Salvini said. He has insisted that the boat should have continued to other ports during the two-week standoff, and not remain close to Italy.

He cited nearby Malta and Tunisia, but also northern European ports, noting that the group is German and that the boat has a Dutch flag.

Sea-Watch said that the migrants had become desperate after the European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday rejected their appeal to be allowed to disembark in Italy.

Those on board are among 53 that the group said it rescued June 12 from a rubber boat off Libya in international waters. In the meantime, 11 have been evacuated to Italy for medical reasons.

“Their situation is now more desperate than ever,” the group said in a statement. “As a result, today at noon, the captain was forced to enter Italian territorial waters under emergency law.” The group’s cultural mediator, Haidi Sadik, said many on board have been tortured in Libya. “But even if this was not the case, any person rescued at sea, by law has to be brought to a place of safety. These are people with basic needs and basic rights. A rescue operation is not finished until every single person rescued has both feet on the ground,” Sadik said.

It is the latest standoff since Italy’s populist government began refusing port last year to humanitarian rescue ships. Salvini insists that they aid migrant traffickers by waiting off the Libyan coast to pick up migrants from unseaworthy boats that couldn’t make it all the way to Europe.

Meanwhile, in Turkey, officials said a van carrying dozens of migrants ignored orders to stop and sped past a police checkpoint in northwest Turkey before crashing into a wall. Ten migrants were killed and about 30 others were injured in the crash. Most migrants try to enter European Union member Greece from Turkey by sea, making a relatively short crossing to nearby Greek islands. Others opt to cross by the northern land route, which is longer.

Published in Dawn, June 27th, 2019