Migrants and refugees from one of four charity rescue boats that Italy had denied a safe port to, were allowed to disembark on Tuesday after a week at sea, according to the German group that operates the ship.
The Rise Above boat docked in the port of Reggio Calabria, shortly after dawn and the 89 people it had picked up in the Mediterranean were let ashore.
“We are relieved that the rescued people are finally safe on land,” the German charity Mission Lifeline, which runs the Rise Above, said in a statement, condemning what it called an “undignified political game” that had kept them at sea.
Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s two-week-old government has moved swiftly to impose a crackdown on boat migration, telling charity vessels that regularly ply the Mediterranean to take rescued people to other countries.
In a sign that its campaign against the non-governmental groups was having an impact, Spanish charity Salvamento Maritimo Humanitario said it would postpone a planned sea rescue mission due to the risk of its ship being seized by Italian authorities.
Italy’s deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini, head of the anti-migrant League party, cheered the development, tweeting: “Onwards like this. Italy will not be an accomplice of human trafficking. Is anyone starting to get this?”
Meloni’s government initially kept four ships at sea and although it allowed two to dock in Sicily at the weekend, it has only let off the most fragile people, mainly women and children, leaving about 250 still on board.
The captains of the two boats, one operated by German charity SOS Humanity and the other by France’s Doctors without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF), have refused orders to return to sea again with the remaining migrants and are challenging the edict in the courts.
A third ship, Ocean Viking, which is run by French charity SOS Mediterranee, remains off the coast of Sicily with about 234 people on board. They were picked up off Libya 17 days ago and have repeatedly requested access to an Italian port.
The Rise Above is a much smaller boat than the three other rescue ships and its passengers had suffered badly in recent heavy seas, Mission Lifeline said.
The UN agencies for migration and refugees appealed to Italy on Monday to let all the stranded people come ashore, adding that all “concerned states” should then take responsibility for the new arrivals.
Italy has seen a sharp increase in migrant arrivals this year, with about 88,000 people landing in 2022 against 55,000 in the same period last year, official data shows.
Most of them have come from Egypt and Tunisia and Italy says the vast majority of migrants are not fleeing war or discrimination but are seeking a rich life in Europe.
Rescues by aid groups accounted for about 15 percent of people who disembarked in Italy this year, the United Nations says.