Rescue ship gets OK to bring 438 rescued migrants to Italy

ROME (AP) — A German humanitarian organization’s maritime rescue ship was sailing Friday to the Italian mainland to disembark 438 migrants who were rescued in the Mediterranean Sea off Libya, where many people smugglers are based.

Sea-Watch said the ship was expected to reach Taranto port in Puglia, the region that forms the “heel” of the Italian peninsula, by Saturday.

The charity appealed for several days for permission to take the passengers to Italy, saying they were sweltering in temperatures that reached 40 degrees Celsius (104 F). Italian authorities gave the OK on Thursday evening.

“On one hand, there is relief, on the other, dismay,” Sea-Watch Italy tweeted. Before the reach port, the migrants “face two more days of journey and further suffering inflicted on those who have suffered enough.”

The passengers on Sea-Watch 3 include unaccompanied minors, the organization said. A pregnant woman and a child with burns accompanied by immediate family members were already evacuated to Italy. A mix of spilled fuel on smugglers’ vessels and salty sea water sometimes causes burns.

Smugglers have launched multiple boats, generally in unseaworthy condition, toward Italy during a long spell of good weather.

Many migrants reach tiny Lampedusa island south of Sicily, either after disembarking from rescue vessels or on boats that reach the island without being intercepted by Libyan or Italian coast guard personnel.

Most Europe-bound migrants hope to reach family or find work, but many of them are denied asylum because they fled poverty and not persecution or war.

With a surge in arrivals, the migrant center on Lampedusa was housing hundreds more people than its capacity, a not infrequent situation in the summer.

With an early parliamentary election in Italy set for Sept. 25, right-wing League leader Matteo Salvini has made a campaign promise to take a hard line on migration if his party comes to power in a center-right alliance.

Italian Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese met in Rome with Lampedusa’s mayor this week. She pledged to speed up the transfer of migrants to the Italian mainland or to the large island of Sicily.

Italian Navy, Coast Guard and Border Police boats were being deployed for that purpose along with a commercial ferry, which will sail three times weekly between Lampedusa and Sicily to ease crowding at the migrant center.


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