“Less than 88,000 people have arrived in Italy via sea this year,” Flavio Di Giacomo, a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, said. “This is not an emergency in terms of numbers, but a humanitarian emergency.”
The standoff involved four ships carrying migrants in distress, and the Italian authorities had declined to assign a port of safety, as required by international law.
Three of the ships — the Humanity I, carrying 179 migrants; the Geo Barents, with 572; and the Rise Above, with 89 — were eventually allowed to dock in Catania and Reggio Calabria, with their passengers permitted to disembark.
“It was urgent to let them on the ground, and their conditions were critical,” Cristina Laura Cecchini, a lawyer for Humanity 1 who had initiated the migrants’ asylum requests in Italy, said. “The survivors come from Libya, have undergone torture and violence, and have been saved from distress at sea.”
But the Italian government stood firm on a fourth vessel, the Ocean Viking, operated by the French organization SOS Méditerranée, and the organization said on Wednesday that the ship was sailing in international waters, headed to Corsica, but had not been told what port would receive it.
The vessel is carrying 234 migrants, including 58 minors, from Libya, with many in need of medical assistance, the organization said, citing the deterioration of the physical and mental health of women, children and men on board after requests to dock in Malta, Italy, France, Spain and Greece were met by silence.
“The situation is critical,” the organization’s head in France, Sophie Beau, told the broadcaster BFMTV on Wednesday. “It isn’t possible to wait any longer.”