ROME — The maritime rescue vessel of a German humanitarian organization sailed to mainland Italy on Friday to disembark 438 migrants rescued in the Mediterranean Sea off Libya, where many smugglers are based.
Sea-Watch said the ship was expected to reach the port of Taranto in Puglia, the region that forms the “heel” of the Italian peninsula, by Saturday.
The charity appealed for several days for permission to fly the passengers to Italy, saying they were suffocating in temperatures reaching 40 degrees Celsius (104 F). The Italian authorities gave their agreement on Thursday evening.
“On one side there is relief, on the other there is dismay,” Sea-Watch Italy tweeted. Prior to the port of arrival, migrants “face two additional days of travel and further suffering inflicted on those who have suffered enough”.
Sea-Watch 3 passengers include unaccompanied minors, the organization said. A pregnant woman and a burnt child accompanied by immediate family members have already been evacuated to Italy. A mixture of fuel spilled on smugglers’ ships and salty sea water sometimes causes burns.
The smugglers launched several boats, usually in unseaworthy condition, towards Italy for a long stretch of good weather.
Many migrants reach the small island of Lampedusa in southern Sicily, either after disembarking rescue ships or on boats that reach the island without being intercepted by Libyan or Italian coast guard personnel.
Most migrants to Europe hope to reunite with family or find work, but many are denied asylum because they fled poverty, not persecution or war.
With a surge in arrivals, the migrant center in Lampedusa housed hundreds of people more than its capacity, a situation quite common in the summer.
With snap parliamentary elections in Italy set for September 25, right-wing League leader Matteo Salvini has made a campaign pledge to take a hard line on migration if his party comes to power in an alliance centre-right.
Italian Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese met this week in Rome with the mayor of Lampedusa. She is committed to speeding up the transfer of migrants to the Italian mainland or to the large island of Sicily.
Boats from the Italian Navy, Coast Guard and Border Police have been deployed for this purpose, as well as a commercial ferry, which will sail three times a week between Lampedusa and Sicily to reduce congestion in the center of immigrants.
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