New arrivals in Sicilian harbours, while deaths continue at sea.

In the last few days, around 1500 people have been rescued in the Mediterranean. Two days ago, some of those people were taken to Palermo and Catania. Yesterday in Pozzallo the ship Open Arms also recovered three bodies: those of two babies and a twenty year old boy.

The Spanish ship Santa Maria arriving in Palermo

There are currently only three rescue vessels remaining at sea. On the 17th of January, Sea Watch alone had 421 people on board. The operators of Sos Mediterranee, arriving two days ago in Catania, explained how recent rescue operations have been extremely difficult over the past few days and have underlined how the presence of just three operating vessels in the Mediterranean is by no means sufficient.

What represents a change is the point of rescue: 80 miles north of Al Khoms, a greater distance from the Libyan coast than usual.

Palermo – around 8am two days ago, the Spanish ship “Santa Maria”, which had been engaged in the EUNAVFOR Med operation SOPHIA from the 14th of December, entered the harbour.

In the harbour, operators of ACNUR, IOM, EASO, Frontex, Police, Prefecture, ASL and the Italian Red Cross are present. The president of the Italian Red Cross told us that on board there are 210 migrants: 156 men, 34 women and 20 minors, rescued in four operations.

Palermo – Migrants aboard Santa Maria

Around sixty migrants coming from Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. Awaiting them was the administrative order of deferred rejection, the so-called “7 days” as the migrants call it. Seven days to leave Italy, without having had the possibility to ask for protection. We will meet them at the central station, after the identification at the questura (police station), without money and often without any idea of where to go. Among them at least three Moroccan women who were travelling alone, one of whom has burns.

The women are the first to disembark, some of them with very small children, others with their entire family. Not all of them are well, one was taken with her child to hospital. Immediately after, three men disembark, a Libyan, a Syrian and another from Guinea-Bissau. Police who have been on board of the Santa Maria for an extended period of time accompany them. It will be these men being arrested as alleged traffickers, as there will be at every boat landing.

On board there are also Syrians, but we did not succeed in gaining information on how many there were. Amongst them were mostly nuclear families, including elderly people who were numerous in this disembarkation. The minors on the other hand seemed to be 20 in total, of which at least four – from Gambia and Senegal – were unaccompanied, and are supposed to be transferred to Toretta, in the province of Palermo. Amongst the 210 migrants were also Asian citizens (presumably from Pakistan and Bangladesh).

One hundred men will be transferred to the Agrigento province.

The Aquarius ship in Catania harbour

Catania – Sos Mediterranee’s ship, the Aquaris, arrived in the harbour of the Etnean city two days ago with 505 people of 25 different nationalities on board: 115 women, 51 unaccompanied minors and 14 pregnant women. Two two-week old Eritrean babies were rescued as well; considering their state of health – one of the two weighed only 2,6 kg – it can be assumed they were born in a Libyan detention centre.

The rescue operations took place in international waters west of Tripoli between the 16th and 17th of January.

On the first day, a wreck of an inflatable boat was located, without a motor and with scattered clothes nearby. It is unknown where these people ended up. Later, all people who had been rescued by the Spanish Coast Guard were transferred onto the Aquarius.

Signals from MRCC in Rome resumed at 3am the following morning, one after the other without pause. In total, five rescue operations were carried out, the last boat containing 15 Libyans.

The landing operations continued until the late afternoon.

Judith Gleitze – Viola Gastaldi
Borderline Sicilia

Translated by Meg McLellan