Situation 'incredibly tense' in Sea-Watch standoff
LAMPEDUSA, Italy – The captain of a charity rescue ship blocked off Italy with migrants on board said on Friday, June 28, the situation was "incredibly tense" as a stand-off with Rome dragged on.
"At the moment the situation is incredibly tense, getting worse and worse," Carola Rackete, captain of the Sea-Watch 3 told journalists in Rome, via a live video-link from the ship.
"It's very difficult for them all psychologically," said the 31-year old, who has become a symbol of defiance and a left-wing hero in Italy for challenging Interior Minister Matteo Salvini's "closed-ports" policy.
She has warned that those rescued are victims of trauma and are being hit hard by the uncertainty over their fate.
The Dutch-flagged Sea-Watch 3 has been stuck in the Mediterranean, during a heat wave, since rescuing 53 migrants drifting in an inflatable raft off the coast of Libya on June 12.
The most vulnerable people were evacuated, but Salvini insisted the rest were unwelcome.
On Wednesday, after over two weeks at sea, and as tempers on the small boat frayed, Rackete decided she had no choice but to enter Italian waters illegally to bring the remaining 42 migrants to safety.
Salvini has called for her to be slapped with a hefty fine and face legal action, and he wants the ship seized.
'Mood is bad'
While a sick 19-year-old migrant and his young brother were evacuated from the vessel Thursday, on Friday the ship was still stuck off the island of Lampedusa.
It had tried to enter the port – where demonstrators have been massing in support – but was blocked by police.
"The mood on the ship is quite bad," Rackete said.
Salvini has said the migrants can only disembark if they head straight to the Netherlands, where the Sea-Watch 3 is registered, or to Germany.
The head of the far-right League party has seen his popularity inch steadily upwards on the anti-immigrant platform.
On Thursday, EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said Brussels was "closely involved in coordinating with the member states to find a solution for relocating the migrants on board Sea-Watch 3 once they are disembarked."
According to Italian media reports, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte had a long chat with his Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Osaka in Japan on Friday.
Five Italian left-wing MPs spent the night onboard the ship in a gesture of solidarity.
"We'll remain onboard until all of the migrants have disembarked," said Graziano Delrio, who was the minister in charge of the Italian coastguard between 2015 and 2018.
Salvini has called for the Sea-Watch 3 to be seized and its crew to be arrested for aiding and abetting illegal immigration.
Despite Salvini's hard-line stance, migrants are continuing to arrive, even if not in the same numbers as during the period between 2014 and 2017.
Nearly 500 migrants have landed on Italy's coast over the past 16 days, according to the Italian interior ministry. – Rappler.com