Migrants rescued from grounded fishing boat off Sicily

Hundreds of migrants have been rescued from a fishing boat that ran aground, Italy's coast guard said on Wednesday, while 300 more on a humanitarian ship were allowed to disembark.

A young migrant hugs a doctor onboard the Sea-Watch 4 rescue ship off the coast of Sicily on September 01, 2020.
A young migrant hugs a doctor onboard the Sea-Watch 4 rescue ship off the coast of Sicily on September 01, 2020. THOMAS LOHNES / AFP

The coast guard said the overnight rescue of 396 migrants was complicated by “critical and worsening sea conditions and the shallow water” where the boat ran aground off the port of Pozzallo in southeastern Sicily.

Video images showed the grounded fishing boat pitched to one side amid high waves and the loading of migrants onto two port tugboats that helped in the operation.

Meanwhile, after more than a week at sea, 306 migrants on board the Ocean Viking humanitarian rescue boat operated by SOS Mediterranee were given a green light to disembark in Sicily.

Migrants warmed by emergency blankets arrive on a boat of the Italian Guardia Di Finanza law enforcement agency on May 17, 2021.

Migrants warmed by emergency blankets arrive on a boat of the Italian Guardia Di Finanza law enforcement agency on May 17, 2021. Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

READ ALSO: German rescue boat heads for Italy carrying 800 migrants

“Indescribable relief on the Ocean Viking,” the association said on Twitter, after being told the ship could dock at the port of Augusta, on the island’s east coast.

The charity’s Claire Juchat had earlier appealed for help in a video message from on board.

“We’ve just gone through a storm with over-two metre waves, it’s raining, the bridge is wet, tonight the rescued have been soaked, frozen, we have to be disembarked as quickly as possible,” she said.

The boat rescued the migrants in four separate operations. It had been seeking a port to disembark the migrants since Sunday.

More than 57,000 migrants have landed in Italy since the beginning of the year, compared with about 30,000 in the same period last year, according to the interior ministry.

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France seeks EU deal with Britain on illegal immigration

France wants a new post-Brexit accord between Britain and the European Union on handling illegal immigration, in the wake of the disaster in the Channel last week that left 27 migrants dead, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said on Monday.

A member of the UK Border Force (R) helps people on a beach in Dungeness
A member of the UK Border Force (R) helps people on a beach in Dungeness on the south-east coast of England, on November 24, 2021, after they were rescued while crossing the English Channel. The past three years have seen a significant rise in attempted Channel crossings by migrants, despite warnings of the dangers in the busy shipping lane between northern France and southern England. Ben STANSALL / AFP

He called for a “balanced” accord that would offer “a real solution” for dealing with highly organised trafficking networks often spread across France, Belgium, Germany and other countries.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex will write to his British counterpart Boris Johnson on Tuesday to outline the agreement, Darmanin added.

The deal could include ways to ensure unaccompanied minors can safely reach Britain to rejoin family, instead of putting themselves at the mercy of traffickers.

But he rejected proposals that would see Britain unilaterally force migrant boats back to France, saying it was against international maritime law and would put people’s lives in danger.

“We cannot accept this practice,” he said.

Earlier on Monday Darmanin urged Britain on Monday to open a legal route for asylum seekers in order to prevent
people risking their lives by taking small boats across the Channel to England.

“Great Britain needs to open up a legal immigration route” because “at the moment anyone who wants to ask for asylum has no other choice but to cross the Channel,” Darmanin said in an interview with the RMC/BFM media group.

French officials have already suggested that British immigration officials process asylum requests in northern France from migrants camped out around the major ports on France’s coast.

Darmanin convened fellow ministers responsible for immigration from Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium on Sunday for talks about the Channel migrant crisis, four days after an unprecedented accident saw 27 people drown in the busy sea lane.

They met without Britain which was excluded after a row last week between British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron.

Darmanin again blamed Britain for the presence of thousands of migrants in northern France, alleging that more relaxed labour practices on the other side of the Channel were creating a “pull effect” tempting migrants across in hope of finding work.

Many migrants around Calais also say they want to travel to the UK because they speak some English already, or have family and friends in the country.

Around 26,000 people have sailed from France to England this year, leading to severe pressure on the UK government which had vowed to reduce migration after pushing through Britain’s departure from the European Union.

Johnson has suggested sending police and border agents to patrol alongside their French counterparts on the beaches of northern France — something rejected by Paris in the past as an infringement on sovereignty.

More controversially, he proposed sending back all migrants who land in England, a move which Johnson claimed would save “thousands of lives by fundamentally breaking the business model of the criminal gangs”.

France received 80,000 asylum requests in 2020 compared with 27,000 in the UK.

Investigations into last Wednesday’s accident continue, with French police giving no details officially about the circumstances or the identities of the victims.

A total of 17 men, seven women and three minors died, with migrants living along the coast telling AFP that the deceased were mostly Iraqis, Iranians and Afghans.