Posts Tagged ‘migrants’

Charities slam Itlay as migrant ship’s registration revoked

September 24, 2018

Two charities on Sunday lambasted Italy for pressuring Panama into revoking its flag from migrant rescue ship Aquarius, warning the move deals a “major blow” to humanitarian missions off Europe’s southern coasts.

SOS Mediterranee and Doctors without Borders (MSF) said they were “reeling” from Saturday’s announcement by the Panama Maritime Authority that it must revoke the registration of the ship owing to what the NGO’s termed “blatant economic and political pressure from the Italian government”.

“This announcement condemns hundreds of men, women and children who are desperate to reach safety to a watery grave, and deals a major blow to the life-saving humanitarian mission of the Aquarius, the only remaining non-governmental search and rescue vessel in the Central Mediterranean,” the NGOs stated.

They urged European governments to “allow the Aquarius to continue its mission, by affirming to the Panamanian authorities that threats made by the Italian government are unfounded, or by immediately issuing a new flag under which the vessel can sail”.

© Matthew Mirabelli / AFP | Crew members stand aboard the Aquarius rescue ship as it arrive at Bolier Wharf in Senglea, Malta, on August 15, 2018.

Italy’s foreign ministry did not comment when contacted by AFP.

Panama said it was revoking its flag owing to “non-respect” of “international legal procedures” relating to migrant rescues in the Mediterranean.



⚡PRESS RELEASE⚡ Pressured by , the announcement by Maritime Authority (PMA) to revoke the registration of the condemns hundreds of men, women & children who are desperate to reach safety, to a watery grave. @SOSMedIntl 

Italian government pressures Panama to stop Aquarius rescues on world’s deadliest maritime route |…

SOS MEDITERRANEE and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) are reeling from the announcement by the Panama Maritime Authority (PMA) that it has been forced to revoke the registration of the search and…

Aquarius spent 19 days docked in the French port of Marseille after Gibraltar revoked its flag last month. It set sail again last week after first acquiring Panamanian recognition.

But Panama then launched “an official revocation procedure” after Italian authorities complained Aquarius’s captain had “refused to return migrants and refugees back to their point of origin.”

Aquarius had Thursday picked up 11 migrants off the coast of Libya but refused to take them back to the North African country and instead went in search of an alternative port.

The vessel has been operated by charities SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders since 2016.

Italian authorities said Friday it was “floating in the Mediterranean” but that it wasn’t welcome to dock in Italy.

The Aquarius has been banned from Italian ports since June, when Interior Minister Matteo Salvini decided the country would take in no more migrants.

He tweeted Thursday the boat could go wherever it wanted “but not to Italy”.

In a statement, the two NGOs said the Aquarius “meets all maritime standards and is in full compliance with rigorous technical specifications as required under the Panama flag”.

It denounced Rome’s action as “further proof of the extent to which the Italian government is willing to go to, knowing that the only consequence is that people will continue to die at sea and that no witnesses will be present to count the dead”.

Karline Kleijer, MSF’s head of emergencies, said EU leaders “appear to have no qualms implementing increasingly abusive and vicious tactics that serve their own political interests at the expense of human lives.

“This tragedy has to end,” Kleijer added.



EU seeks closer North African ties to fight migrant smugglers

September 20, 2018

EU leaders called Thursday for more intense talks with Egypt and other North African countries to take further steps against illegal migration to Europe, particularly by fighting those who smuggle and traffic them.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said leaders meeting in the Austrian city of Salzburg backed the plan and noted that Egypt, at least, is “ready to intensify talks with the European Union”.

“I believe that this will be an important further step in the fight against illegal migration, but above all also in the fight against the business of traffickers,” Kurz told reporters.

© AFP | Kurz said the EU leaders meeting in Salzburg had backed the plan

Egypt’s foreign ministry confirmed Thursday it has proposed hosting a joint summit of EU and Arab leaders to tackle a range of issues, including migration.

EU sources said the summit could be held in February. The Cairo-based Arab League includes North African countries Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco as well as those in the Middle East and Gulf.

The EU has previously struck cooperation deals with Turkey and Libya that helped to cut migration to Europe sharply since a 2015 peak, but the bloc wants to expand work with all north African countries.

The 28-nation bloc is increasingly focusing on less controversial plans to bolster its external borders as sharp divisions persist over redistributing asylum seekers who make it to Europe.

Summit host Kurz said the leaders proposed during an opening dinner on Wednesday “that talks be opened with Egypt but also with other North African states.”

“This proposal has been supported by all,” Kurz added.

Kurz, whose country holds the EU’s six-month rotating presidency, said he and Donald Tusk, the European Council president who chairs summits, will now reach out to the north African countries.

He said the signs were encouraging from Egypt, which EU officials said Kurz and Tusk visited on Sunday to discuss deeper cooperation.

Following his return to Brussels, Tusk called for a summit of EU and Arab League leaders.

– Migration ‘political crisis’ –

Kurz said Egypt has been “efficient” in the last two years in preventing boats from leaving its shores or forcing them back when they did.

EU sources told reporters that Egypt has set an example in fighting traffickers and smugglers, which could be followed by other North African countries.

They said Tusk will meet for more talks on fighting illegal migration with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York later this month.

Tusk called the informal summit in a bid to defuse simmering tensions over migration.

Since the summer, Italy has repeatedly turned away rescue ships carrying hundreds of African migrants to force other EU member countries to share responsibility for them.

The migrants were finally relocated to member states and non-member Albania on an ad-hoc basis, but EU countries have so far found an overall solution elusive.

They have yet to work out ways to implement proposals agreed at a June summit to set up centres in Europe and North Africa to separate genuine refugees from economic migrants who could be deported.

EU sources said the idea would not be to set up a disembarkation centre in Egypt, which Cairo is on record as opposing. No other North African country has agreed to host such a centre.

Kurz, whose government takes a harder line on migration, said more EU leaders realise that tougher external borders rather than “sharing refugees” were the solution.

The EU is still confronted with the refusal of Hungary and other former communist eastern countries to admit migrants, particularly from Muslim countries.

But Italian Prime Minister Paolo Conte said frontline countries like Italy have not given up on a scheme to redistribute the asylum seekers who arrive on their shores among other bloc members.

Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel argued that migration is now only a “political crisis,” unlike in 2015 when Europe faced a real logistical and humanitarian emergency with the biggest movement of asylum seekers since World War II.

Germany’s Merkel backs Austria on stronger EU borders

September 17, 2018

The German chancellor and her Austrian counterpart, Sebastian Kurz, have agreed to stem migrant arrivals to the EU. European leaders are under pressure after the main route across the Mediterranean shifted.

Angela Merkel and Sebastian KurzBoth leaders emphasized the need to bolster Frontex, the EU’s border management agency

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Austrian counterpart Sebastian Kurz appeared to put aside their differences on Sunday, as the two leaders announced a series of efforts aimed at combating irregular migration to Europe.

The pair agreed to collaborate with several African nations to stem migration flows and welcomed plans by European Commission President Jean-Clause Juncker to bolster Frontex staff to 10,000 by 2020.

Although Merkel and Kurz have previously clashed on migration, Austria’s anti-immigration chancellor acknowledged that Berlin had adopted a harder line, thanks in large part to German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer.

Ahead of Sunday’s meeting, a spokesman for Austrian chancellery said strengthening the EU’s external borders would be a focal point in the discussions in Berlin.

“There can be no open borders within Europe without proper protection of external EU borders,” Kurz said in remarks provided to the DPA news agency by his spokesman. “That’s why it is so important to strengthen Frontex.”

Following the last formal EU leaders’ summit in June, the Commission vowed to boost the bloc’s border management agency Frontex, and establish migrant processing centers on the European periphery and in North Africa. Those proposals have yet to be translated into policy.

Kurz said he and Merkel agreed that “we have to work out the details of the turning point that we achieved” in June.

Read more: What is the Frontex – the European Border and Coast Guard Agency?

Africa onboard?

Kurz also announced plans to co-host a joint EU-Africa summit in Vienna with Rwandan President Paul Kagame in December.

Austria, which currently holds the rotating European Council presidency, said the summit would focus on improving economic ties between the two continents in a bid to tackle one of the drivers of migration to Europe.

Merkel also stressed the need to engage with the African countries of origin. Areas for collaboration between the EU and the 53 African countries must be clearly defined, the German chancellor said, since “nobody can be expected to have to deal with everything.”

Read more: At Spain’s enclave of Ceuta, African refugees dream of Europe

More talks ahead

Merkel is expected to visit Algeria on Monday. The Austrian chancellor is also set to hold talks with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Monday, ahead of next week’s EU leaders’ summit in Salzburg.

dm/ls (dpa, AFP, AP)

Austria, Italy propose processing refugees on ships

September 15, 2018

Austrian Interior Minister Herbert Kickl said asylum-seekers would be “well looked after on a ship.” Both governments support curbing immigration in their countries and hope to restrict border crossings from Italy.

A boat with over 900 asylum-seekers in Italian waters (picture-alliance/dpa/O. Scardino)

The interior ministers of Austria and Italy backed a proposal that would hold rescued refugees aboard ships in the Mediterranean Sea until their asylum claims were processed. The suggestion was unveiled Friday in Vienna, during a conference on migration between the EU and several African countries, including Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Morocco, Niger, Mali and Tunisia.

“For those who manage to make it into a European state’s territorial waters and are then picked up by a ship, we should use the ships to carry out the appropriate checks on whether they deserve protection,” Austrian Interior Minister Herbert Kickl said in a joint press conference with his counterpart, Matteo Salvini.

“You are well looked after on a ship,” Kickl said. He added that the asylum case processing “should last a few days” and that those with no chance of asylum should be denied entry to Europe.

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Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini (R) and his Austrian counterpart Herbert Kickl
Kickl and Salvini said asylum-seekers could have their applications processed before setting foot in Europe

Since migrant routes from Turkey to Greece were largely shut in 2016, asylum-seekers have been following the Mediterranean route to Italy. The new Italian government has made shutting down the route a policy priority.

Austria, which took in more than 1 percent of its population in asylum-seekers in 2015, is currently led by a conservative government that promised to prevent another such influx and has sought to restrict border crossings from Italy.

The Austrian and Italian proposal represented an alternative to the “regional disembarkation platforms,” located in EU Mediterranean ports, which had been discussed by European nations.

Read more: Viktor Orban and Matteo Salvini strive to forge new European anti-migrant alliance

African countries object

Salvini, who has been fervently opposed to refugee rescue ships landing in Italy, said he was “absolutely in favor” of the proposal to hold migrants at sea.

“In fact, I was saying how ironic it was that having held a group of immigrants on a ship in an Italian port for 10 days, an Italian judge placed me under investigation for kidnapping,” Salvini said.

The Italian interior minister was referring to the formal investigation against him for “illegal confinement” after he refused to let more than 100 rescued migrants disembark on Italian soil.

Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska and EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told reporters that the concept of landing platforms was not supported by any of the African participants.

“It’s very hard for a country to accept something like that. Every country has its dignity, and we should recognize that,” said Grande-Marlaska.

Read more: At Spain’s enclave of Ceuta, African refugees dream of Europe

A heated debate in Vienna

At the conference, Salvini spoke frankly about his country’s view of African migrants and Europe’s aging demographic trends.

“I am in government, paid by my fellow citizens, in order to encourage our own young people to have children… and not to uproot the best of Africa’s young people,” Salvini said in a closed-door meeting of EU interior ministers in Vienna, which he posted on his Facebook page to display a spat with the foreign minister of Luxembourg, Jean Asselborn.

Read more: ‘Germany is below average in tackling population decline’

“In Italy, we feel it’s necessary to help our children make more children. And not to have new slaves to replace the children we’re no longer having,” Salvini said.

Asselborn was visibly upset and interjected, to which Salvini retorted, “if you in Luxembourg need more immigration, I prefer to keep Italy for Italians and that we start having children again.”

But Asselborn did not back down: “In Luxembourg, sir, we have dozens of thousands of Italians! They came as migrants, they worked in Luxembourg so you in Italy would have money for your children.”

The caustic exchange reflected the deep fissures between European nations on migrant policy and exposed the challenges the EU faces in reaching a compromise on the matter.

jcg/sms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

Italy’s Salvini likens African immigrants to ‘slaves’

September 14, 2018

Italian far-right leader and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini likened African immigrants to slaves at a European conference on Thursday, drawing an angry response from Luxembourg’s foreign minister, who cursed at him in frustration.

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FILE PHOTO: Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini

Salvini, who heads the League party, has led a popular crackdown against immigration since Italy’s coalition government took office in June. He was speaking at a closed-door session of a conference on migration and security hosted by Austria, which holds the rotating European Union presidency.

“I heard someone say we need immigration because the population is aging. I see things completely differently,” Salvini told the session in remarks filmed and posted on his Facebook profile.

“I’m paid by citizens to help our young people start having children again the way they did a few years ago, and not to uproot the best of the African youth to replace Europeans who are not having children anymore… Maybe in Luxembourg there’s this need, in Italy there’s the need to help our kids have kids, not to have new slaves to replace the children we’re not having.”

Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg’s foreign and immigration minister, was sitting a few places down from Salvini and grew visibly angry as Salvini spoke, finally interrupting the Italian in French with “Allez, allez, allez”, suggesting he had gone too far.

“In Luxembourg we had tens of Italian immigrants. They came as migrants, who worked in Luxembourg so that you could in Italy had money to pay for your children,” he said in French, concluding with the exclamation “Merde alors!”.

Asselborn was apparently referring to the decades following World War Two, when several European countries took in migrant workers to meet the demand for labor during a prolonged economic boom.

The conference, which includes some European and African interior ministers as well as EU officials, was due to wind up on Friday afternoon. Salvini was also due to hold a joint news conference with Austrian far-right leader and Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache at 4:15 p.m. (1445 GMT) on Friday.

Reporting by Francois Murphy in Vienna and Steve Scherer in Rome; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky


21 more bodies wash up as migrants try to reach Spain

September 14, 2018

The bodies of 21 people thought to be migrants trying to reach Spain have washed up on the shores of the Mediterranean this month, the U.N. migration agency said in statement on Friday.

The latest deaths bring the total of Mediterranean migrant deaths this year to 1,586, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said.

The remains of nine sub-Saharan Africans were found on Sept. 4 on a beach near Marsa Ben M’Hidi, in Algeria’s province of Tlemcen, about 200 km from the Spanish coast.

The next day, four more bodies were recovered on the neighbouring beach of Saïdia, across the border in Morocco.

On Sept. 10, the remains of six migrants including two women and one child washed ashore at Driouch, near Nador, Morocco, IOM said.

The body of a woman was found on Las Salinas beach, in Roquetas de Mar, Almería on Sept. 11, and the body of a young Sub-Saharan African man was retrieved by fishermen near La Almadraba, in the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, on Sept. 13.


(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Peter Graff)


Germany: Bundestag gets rowdy over far-right violence, immigration

September 12, 2018

MPs are holding a tense debate in the Bundestag in the aftermath of far-right protests in eastern Germany. A pending national budget plan and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s immigration policies are also in the spotlight.

Merkel and the AfD in the Bundestag (Reuters/H. Hanschke)

Lawmakers in Germany’s lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, gathered for a lively and occasionally bad-tempered debate on Wednesday, with immigration, far-right violence, and the nation’s budget high on the list of issues.

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), the largest opposition party in the Bundestag, kicked off the debate by taking aim at German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the government’s criticism of violence at far-right rallies in Chemnitz.

AfD co-leader Alexander Gauland condemned the depiction of protesters who took part in protests in the eastern German city of Chemnitz — many of which were organized by right-wing extremist groups. He described the majority of them as “concerned citizens.”

Gauland speaks in the Bundestag (Reuters/H. Hanschke)AfD parliamentary leader Alexander Gauland rails against the chancellor in the Bundestag

He acknowledged that some protesters did give Hitler salutes during the demonstrations, which is illegal in Germany, but he said that they were “in a minority” and that “the real crime was the bloody act committed by two asylum-seekers in Chemnitz.”

Taking aim at Merkel’s comments on the protests, Gauland said: “Hatred is not a crime.” “Who is endangering public peace in this country? Not us,” he concluded.

‘The means of fascism’

Gauland’s speech drew an extraordinary intervention from Martin Schulz, the Social Democratic Party’s (SPD) chancellor candidate from last year, who stood up to accuse the AfD of adopting “the means of fascism” — specifically, the strategy of reducing complex political problems to a single topic, “in general related to a minority in a country.”

“‘Migrants are to blame for everything’ — there have been similar words in this house before,” Schulz said. “It’s time for democracy to defend itself against these people.” His fellow Social Democrats stood up to applaud their former leader’s impassioned statement.

Merkel also pushed back against Gauland’s comments, saying that outrage over a German man’s death cannot justify the violence that took place. “There is no excuse or justification for attacking people who look different,” she said.

Merkel’s speech was then promptly answered by an AfD intervention, from MP Stephan Brandner, chairman of the Bundestag’s justice committee, who called Merkel’s “general statements” about “migrant crime” a “mockery of the victims of your policies.”

The mother of all problems

The leader of the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP), Christian Lindner, used his speech to rail against both sides. Lindner, who has himself been criticized for making populist right-wing overtures in the past few months, said the German people were tired of seeing the “ritualized” outrage from the AfD being answered by equally routine outrage from the left.

Lindner expressed frustration that political debate in Germany was being reduced to the question of migration. After listing all the things that the government should have done better in its budget (driving digitalization, investing in research and education, unburdening taxpayers), Lindner complained that “we could deepen all these problems, but there’s no point, because once again all we talk about is migration.”

Lindner also addressed Interior Minister Horst Seehofer’s contentious statement that “migration was the mother of all problems,” widely read as an attempt to field the populist right-wing vote ahead of an election in Seehofer’s native Bavaria next month.

“Mr. Seehofer, migration is not the problem,” Lindner said. “The problem is the management of migration, for which your party has also been responsible over the last five years.”

Hungary’s Viktor Orban accuses EU of ‘abuse of power’ — “We have a different picture about the nature of Christianity in Europe.”

September 12, 2018

The Hungarian premier has told EU lawmakers that Brussels’ actions against Budapest “violate the EU treaty.” Viktor Orban is facing pressure to correct measures that have undermined “fundamental values” of the EU.

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Hungary’s Orban defiant as EU lawmakers debate action

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Tuesday told the European Parliament that potential disciplinary measures against his country are a “moral decision” that amount to “abuse of power.”

Under pressure from the European Commission, Orban is facing a vote that could see Hungary lose its voting rights in the bloc for undercutting democracy and EU core values.

Read more: Could Hungary lose its EU voting rights?

Orban said:

  • “I stand here in front of you and I defend my country because, for Hungarians, liberty, democracy, independence and Europe are matters of honor.”
  • “What you are doing here is a slap in the face of the Union”
  • “We have defended Hungary, and we have defended Europe.”
  • “We have a different picture about the nature of Christianity in Europe and the role of nations and cultures in our country.”

‘Between nationalism and Europe’

Judith Sargentini, who launched the debate to sanction Hungary under Article 7 of the EU treaty, said Orban has orchestrated the “structural erosion of the rule of law.”

Frans Timmermans, first vice president of the EU Commission, said “civil society is the very fabric of democratic society and is threatened by measures taken by the Hungarian government.”

Manfred Weber, the German leader of the EU parliament’s conservatives who has signaled his intention to head the EU Commission, said Hungary must decide “between nationalism and Europe.”

Nigel Farage, the former head of the far-right UK Independence Party (UKIP) who led the “No” campaign for the Brexit vote, defended Orban, saying “at least one EU politician is ready to stand up for his principles.” He urged him to “join the Brexit club.”

Other EU lawmakers made clear that possible disciplinary actions against Hungary are “not an attack on the people of Hungary.”

Losing support: Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who has long supported Orban’s hard-line stance on refugees, signaled his intention to vote against Hungary. “There are no compromises on the rule of law,” Kurz told ORF television. “Fundamental values have to be protected.”

Why is the EU putting pressure on Hungary? Under Orban, Hungary has witnessed what critics have called an authoritarian turn. The far-right premier has continuously targeted press freedoms, the judiciary’s independence, asylum seekers and non-governmental organizations.

What is Article 7? Article 7 of the EU Treaty allows for the suspension of certain rights of a member state if “there is a clear risk of a serious breach by a member state of the values referred to in Article 2.” Those values comprise “human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.”

Upcoming vote: The European Parliament will vote on Wednesday whether to recommend disciplinary measures against Hungary under Article 7.

ls/aw (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)

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German NGO says Malta to blame for migrant deaths

September 11, 2018

German NGO Sea-Watch accused Malta Tuesday of thwarting Mediterranean migrant rescues by detaining its ship, and blamed it for “preventable” deaths at sea.

“For every preventable death that occurs at sea, your government has direct responsibility,” a Sea-Watch statement said.

Image result for Sea-Watch, NGO, Photos

Its ship, Sea-Watch 3 has been confined to port in Valletta since early July despite safety inspections by Dutch officials, which the German non-governmental organisation (NGO) says entitles it to fly the Dutch flag.

“Your political pressure and power plays cost the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in the world today,” Sea-Watch, said, calling Malta’s action “a conscious attempt to hinder the rescue of people in distress.”

With the issue of immigration fuelling populist movements across Europe, the EU is under pressure to stem the arrival of illegal migrants, many of whom risk their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean in derelict boats.

Latest figures from the International Organisation for Migration show that 73,696 migrants have reached five EU countries via the Mediterranean so far this year, while 1,565 have died at sea.

In 2017, the IOM recorded 128,993 arrivals and 2,561 deaths.


Italy calls U.N. rights chief’s remarks on migrants unfounded, unjust

September 11, 2018

Italy on Tuesday rejected remarks by U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet about its treatment of migrants, calling them “inappropriate, unfounded, unjust”.

The foreign ministry, in a long and sharply worded statement, was responding to a speech in which Bachelet, the former president of Chile, accused the populist government of “political posturing” by denying entry to NGO rescue ships.

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Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights at the Human Rights Council 39th regular session on 10 September 2018. U.N. photo

In her first address in her new position in Geneva, Bachelet also announced a U.N. team was being sent to Italy to assess “the reported sharp increase in acts of violence and racism against migrants, persons of African descent and Roma”.

The foreign ministry statement rejected what it called the “presumed negligence by Italy in the area of human rights of migrants” and said it had for years borne much of the responsibility for saving thousands of lives in the Mediterranean.

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Matteo Salvini, Italy’s Interior Minister has become the “bad boy” of human rights groups

The ministry statement followed sharp criticism of Bachelet on Monday night by Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who is also head of the anti-immigrant League party.

Reporting By Philip Pullella; editing by John Stonestreet, Larry King



© AFP | Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has marked the first 100 days of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s government

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IGC Ubaldo Diciott — Migrant rescue ship

Related image

Migrants disembarking from the IGC Ubaldo Diciott