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Rescued migrants taken to Italy

by FRANCES D’EMILIO THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | May 2, 2021 at 3:53 a.m.
Migrants rest Friday aboard of the Ocean Viking, operated by the rescue group SOS Mediterranee, after being pulled from rubber dinghies in the Mediterranean Sea. (AP/SOS Mediterranee/Flavio Gasperini)

ROME -- Two Italian ports faced an influx of hundreds of migrants Saturday, as a charity ship sailed toward a Sicilian port with 236 people rescued from traffickers' boats in the Mediterranean while the Italian coast guard and border police took 532 others to a tiny island.

The rescue group SOS Mediterranee said a ship it operates, Ocean Viking, pulled migrants to safety from two rubber dinghies four days ago. Upon instructions from Italian authorities, the ship was sailing to Augusta, Sicily, with its passengers, who it said included 119 unaccompanied minors.

SOS Mediterranee said some passengers told rescuers that they were beaten by smugglers based in Libya and forced to embark on the unseaworthy dinghies despite high waves.

On Italy's southern island of Lampedusa, which is closer to North Africa than to the Italian mainland, Mayor Salvatore Martello said migrants from four boats that needed rescue stepped ashore overnight. They were taken to safety by Italian coast guard and customs police boats.

Separately, an Italian navy vessel rescued 49 migrants, Italian state TV reported.

Still in the central Mediterranean Sea on Saturday was another charity boat, Sea-Watch 4, with 308 people aboard who had been rescued from trafficker-launched vessels in four operations, Sea-Watch said. The first rescue, of 44 people, took place Thursday, it said.

Sea-Watch 4 has requested a port for the migrants from both Italy and Malta.

"The fact that we, as a civil rescue ship, saved so many people from distress at sea in such a short time again demonstrates the fundamental rescue gap European states have created at the world's most dangerous maritime border," said Hannah Wallace Bowman, head of mission for Sea-Watch 4.

Last month, SOS Mediterranee personnel and a merchant ship spotted several bodies from a shipwrecked dinghy, believed to have been carrying 130 migrants. People on the boat had appealed for help in the waters off Libya, but no coast guard vessels from Libya, Italy or Malta went to their aid, the group said. No survivors were found.

Humanitarian groups have been urging European Union nations to resume the deployment of military vessels on rescue patrols in the Mediterranean. After hundreds of thousands of rescued migrants, many of them ineligible for asylum, were taken to Italy by ships from the coast guard, navy, border police and other nations, large-scale rescue operations in the sea north of Libya were ended.

Italy has been equipping and training the Libyan coast guard to rescue migrants in their search-and-rescue area and to discourage traffickers.

Human-rights groups and U.N. agencies have denounced inhumane treatment at Libyan detention centers, where migrants rescued or intercepted by the Libyan coast guard are taken. They say migrants endure beatings, rape and insufficient rations.

On Friday, the U.N.'s child welfare agency said 125 Europe-bound children were among those intercepted off the Mediterranean coast by Libyan authorities earlier in the week. UNICEF said most of those rescued were sent to overcrowded detention centers with no access or limited access to water.

"Europe can no longer remain passive in the face of recurring shipwrecks while consciously upholding a system of unspeakable abuse by supporting forced returns to Libya," SOS Mediterranee said.

In this photo taken Thursday, April 29, 2021 migrants look at the sea from aboard the Ocean Viking during its navigation in the Mediterranean Sea.  SOS Mediterranee said Saturday May 1, 2021 the Ocean Viking was sailing toward a Sicilian port with 236 migrants who were rescued days earlier in the Mediterranean from human traffickers' boats, while separately, Italy's coast guard and border police vessels brought 532 migrants rescued during the night to a tiny Italian island.  (Flavio Gasperini/SOS Mediterranee via AP)
In this photo taken Thursday, April 29, 2021 migrants look at the sea from aboard the Ocean Viking during its navigation in the Mediterranean Sea. SOS Mediterranee said Saturday May 1, 2021 the Ocean Viking was sailing toward a Sicilian port with 236 migrants who were rescued days earlier in the Mediterranean from human traffickers' boats, while separately, Italy's coast guard and border police vessels brought 532 migrants rescued during the night to a tiny Italian island. (Flavio Gasperini/SOS Mediterranee via AP)
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