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Italy finally lets 500+ refugees disembark from rescue ship after two weeks

Children wearing Christmas hats look on as they arrive aboard the rescue vessel Sea-Eye 4 in the port of Pozzallo, southern Sicily, December 24, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

Italy has eventually allowed more than 500 refugees to disembark from a rescue ship after almost two weeks at sea, while a German rescue ship with 440 people on board is still waiting for permission to dock.

The Geo Barents vessel, run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), took on board 558 people, mainly Africans, in eight separate operations off the coast of Libya in a time span of 11 days. Italy’s Interior Ministry allowed the ship to dock in the port of Augusta, the island of Sicily, on Tuesday, the MSF said on Wednesday.

The refugees are allowed to leave the ship for health checks. Meanwhile, three people were transferred to hospital for Covid-19. They will undergo a period of quarantine after administrative and health procedures.

Among the refugees is one pregnant woman, unaccompanied minors, and "people who have endured sexual violence and horrific abuse," said the MSF.

The German charity boat Sea Watch 3 is also seeking a port to disembark 440 refugees it rescued in recent days in the Mediterranean. The charity ship repeatedly appealed to the government in Rome to allow it to dock. The wooden ship, however, has not received permission, yet.

“The weather deteriorates … Everyone has the right to disembark, now,” Sea Watch wrote on Twitter.

The Italian Interior Ministry says almost 55,000 refugees have disembarked in the country this year, compared to just under 30,000 last year, according to figures.

More than 160 refugees died when their boat capsized off the coast of Libya this month as they were trying to reach Italy.

Earlier this month, at least three people drowned and dozens were lost at sea after a boat transporting almost 50 people sank off the Greek islands of Cyclades.

In one of the deadliest disasters involving refugees in recent years, at least 27 people died last month when their boat capsized in the English Channel while heading to Britain from France.

According to a UN report, at least 4,834 refugees have died in 2021 while attempting to cross borders.

The death toll this year is more than 600 greater than in the previous 12 months, the report said earlier this month.

Refugee deaths are now a daily occurrence in many parts of the world, particularly in the European Union.

Europe’s refugee crisis began in 2015, when more than 911,000 refugees and asylum seekers arrived on European shores. At least 3,550 people lost their lives on the perilous journey, according to the UN refugee agency. Over 75 percent of those arriving in Europe had fled conflict in Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq.

Analysts believed the crisis has grappled Europe due to the West’s misguided policies in West Asia. They accuse the US and its allies of contributing to the European refugee crisis through their military actions and defiance of international legal norms.

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