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  • Spanish rescue ship Open Arms with migrants on board arrives in Lampedusa.

    Spanish rescue ship Open Arms with migrants on board arrives in Lampedusa. | Photo: Reuters

Published 20 August 2019

The charity vessel repeatedly asked to bring the migrants ashore but wasn’t able to do so because the ruling party refused to allow it to dock.

Italian prosecutor Luigi Patronaggio ordered the seizure of the Open Arms rescue ship Tuesday, allowing the over migrants on board to disembark on the Italian island of Lampedusa. The Spanish humanitarian vessel has been stranded at sea off the coast of Lampedusa for almost 20 days, the prosecutor’s office said Tuesday.

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"After 19 days, we will land in Lampedusa today. The boat will be temporarily seized, but it is a cost that Open Arms assumes to ensure that people on board can be taken care of," tweeted founder of NGO Proactiva Open Arms, Oscar Camps.

Live video of the disembarkation showed migrants walking off the boat's ramp slowly, seemingly weak, with the help of Open Arms volunteers and medical professionals. 

The charity vessel had repeatedly asked to bring the migrants ashore but wasn’t able to do so because Italy refused to allow it to dock, mainly out of the decision from Interior Minister Matteo Salvini.

After an inspection by judicial police and doctors, prosecutor Patronaggio ordered the migrants to be disembarked due to the dramatic situation onboard, with several fights and suicide threats reported, that were caused by the long wait and desperation. The NGO warned the situation was "out of control," with some of the migrants stuck for more than two weeks after being rescued at sea by the coast of Libya, many suffering post-traumatic stress.

Fifteen migrants, some without lifejackets, jumped into the sea earlier on Tuesday in an attempt to reach Lampedusa swimming. They were "rescued and evacuated to Lampedusa," said a spokeswoman for NGO Proactiva.

The decision by Patronaggio came as Italy is going through a major political crisis. The country’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned Tuesday after accusing Salvini of sinking the ruling right-wing coalition and endangering the economy for personal and political gain.

"Ong Open Arms: another landing, another trial? I'm not afraid, proud to defend the borders and the security of my country," Salvini posted on Facebook about the decision to let the migrants off the boat and onto Italian land.

There were initially 147 mainly African migrants on the ship but as the days passed, some were evacuated for medical care and all minors were allowed to disembark.

Six European Union countries, including France, Germany, Romania, Portugal, Spain, and Luxembourg offered to take them in, but Salvini still refused to allow the vessels to dock as part of his hardline policies even though Lampedusa was the closes port.

"Being firm is the only way to stop Italy from becoming Europe's refugee camp again," he had tweeted.

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