Nearly 600 rescued migrants disembark from charity boat in Italy

ROME, July 9 (Reuters) – Hundreds of migrants rescued in the central Mediterranean disembarked in the southern Italian town of Augusta, Sicily, on Friday after Rome-based maritime authorities agreed to give a port to their ship.

The Ocean Viking vessel, operated by SOS Méditerranée, transported 572 people, including around 180 minors, after recovering them during six separate operations in the Maltese and Libyan search and rescue areas, the European NGO said.

After asking the European Union to find a safe port for migrants, the group said the situation on board was deteriorating due to the strain and exhaustion of those rescued.

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“This news brings us relief and brings these people irrepressible joy,” said Carlotta Sami, spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency UNHCR, referring to the Ocean Viking’s ability to dock.

SOS Méditerranée said all migrants would be tested for COVID-19 after disembarking from the boat.

Departures of migrant boats from North Africa to Europe have resumed in 2021 after a decline in recent years and dozens of people have died in recent weeks following shipwrecks while trying to reach the ‘Italy.

Some 22,900 migrants have arrived in Italy since the start of the year – many of whom were fleeing conflict and poverty in Africa and the Middle East – compared to almost 7,700 in the same period last year, according to data from the Ministry of the Interior.

Several charity boats have been seized in Italy in recent months after officials reported irregularities on board.

The charity group MSF has complained that Italian authorities are using such inspections to prevent ships from returning to sea where many migrants are dying.

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Report by Angelo Amante in Rome Editing by Matthew Lewis

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