Nov. 9 (UPI) — France is blasting the Italian government, calling the latter’s refusal to allow a boat loaded with rescued refugees to land at one of its ports “unacceptable” on Wednesday.
The ship is carrying 234 people rescued from the central Mediterranean Sea, but Rome is blocking the asylum seekers from coming ashore.
The Ocean Viking rescue boat is operated by European charity SOS Méditerranée under a Norwegian flag. The vessel began sailing toward France after learning it was unable to dock at an Italian port. The organization has been searching for a friendly port destination since Sunday.
“Following Italy’s silence, we urge French maritime authorities to assign a port to disembark the 234 survivors on #OceanViking,” the organization Tweeted on Tuesday.
The maritime and humanitarian charity organization’s mission is to rescue life in the Mediterranean. It was founded by citizens in May 2015 in response to the deaths in the Mediterranean and “the failure of the European Union to prevent these deaths.”
Conditions are deteriorating inside the ship, which has been at sea for 19 days.
“The situation onboard Ocean Viking reached a critical limit. We are facing very severe consequences, including risks of loss of lives. Physical and psychological well-being of survivors and crew have been exhausted by over two weeks of blockage at sea. It is now a humanitarian emergency needing an immediate response.” SOS MEDITERRANEE Director of operations Xavier Lauth said in a statement.
“The medical team observes acute psychological stress among the survivors, with increasing signs of anxiety, depression, insomnia, and loss of appetite.
“After waiting so long for a positive answer to the multiple requests for a Place of Safety, survivors are losing the last bits of hope and incredible resilience they have shown so far.
“Some survivors have begun expressing intentions to jump overboard out of despair. Serious incidents can happen at any time, jeopardizing safety of the survivors and our teams onboard.”
The Ocean Viking is the last of four similar charity ships that have collectively recovered more than 1,000 migrants stranded at sea over the past few weeks. All were attempting to cross the sea and enter mainland Europe.
“We are living beings who want to be free. There are people who are sick, women and children. We ask the population, the European Union to provide us with a safe port,” one of the boat’s passengers, Milan said in a video interview from the ship, released by the organization on Twitter.
Italy’s newly elected government blocked a separate vessel carrying at least 35 adult migrants from docking at the port of Catania on Sunday.
The captain of the Humanity 1, one of non-governmental agency SOS Humanity’s fleet, refused orders to leave the port after the migrants were refused entry to Sicily.
As many as 144 asylum seekers were allowed to disembark after medical inspection before being brought to a reception center. Many were children or people with medical emergencies. About 100 unaccompanied children are estimated to be among those taken off the boat.
The country’s new far-right government is headed by Giorgia Meloni, who campaigned on cracking down on asylum seekers attempting to cross the Italian border.