ROME: Over 300 migrants rescued from the Mediterranean by a charity vessel disembarked at the Italian port of Pozzallo on Sunday after a week’s wait for a port of entry.

The 363 migrants, rescued in five different operations since January 27 by the Spanish charity ship, Open Arms, had been onboard awaiting permission to dock at a European port after Malta denied them entry.

“Moments of joy after so much suffering. The 363 people on board our ship have learned they can disembark. The voyage continues in Europe. Good luck,” wrote the charity, Proactiva Open Arms, on Twitter.

Video images released by the charity showed workers from the health ministry in masks and white protective suits taking migrants’ temperatures as they descended the gangplank at the Sicilian port.

Health protocols were more stringent after Italy on Friday declared a state of emergency to fight transmission of a new coronavirus.

Two Chinese tourists are in quarantine in a Rome hospital after having tested positive for the virus, the spread of which the World Health Organisation has called an international public health emergency.

The head of the regional health agency, Raffaele Elia, said three different controls were performed, the first on board, and the following two after disembarkation. most of the migrants had been in Libya for more than 14 days — the virus’ incubation period — before their departure.

Malta had refused to let the ship enter its port despite having signed a deal with Italy, France, and Germany last September intended to avoid drawn-out negotiations on where migrants will dock.

Last week, over 400 migrants on board the Ocean Viking ship — run by SOS Mediterranee and Doctors without Borders — landed at the Italian port of Taranto.

Italy has often complained of having to take the bulk of migrants crossing the Mediterranean.

On Saturday, former interior minister and leader of the far-right League, Matteo Salvini, said on Facebook he faced new potential legal proceedings for having banned the Open Arms vessel carrying 164 migrants from entering Italian waters for 20 days last August before being overruled by a court.

Salvini already potentially faces a trial over refusing entry to the Ocean Viking ship and its over 100 migrants onboard in July.

Later this month, the Senate will vote on whether to try Salvini on that case, in which he is accused of abusing his power as interior minister in depriving the migrants of their personal freedom.

“Threats and trials don’t scare me, we’ll return to power to protect Italy and our children,” Salvini told his followers on Facebook.

Published in Dawn, February 3rd, 2020