An Italian Coast Guard patroller flanks the Sea-Watch rescue ship off the Sicilian coast where it found shelter, about one nautical mile from Siracusa, from gale winds sweeping the Sicilian Channel, Friday, Jan. 25, 2019. The Sea-Watch is carrying 47 people saved from the sea. Italian Interior minister Salvini yesterday tweeted that the government is "ready to send food, medicine and whatever may be needed, but Italy's ports are and will remain closed". (AP Photo/Salvatore Cavalli)

Italy lawmakers say ship's migrants suffering mentally

January 27, 2019 - 1:32 pm

ROME (AP) — Italian lawmakers boarded a migrant rescue ship within eyeshot of the island of Sicily on Sunday to inspect conditions for 47 men and boys nine days after they were rescued in the Mediterranean Sea.

The ship operated by German humanitarian group Sea-Watch picked up the migrants on Jan. 19 in waters off Libya. It was allowed to shelter Italy's territorial waters due to threatening weather Thursday, but the government refuses to let aid groups disembark in Italian ports.

Opposition lawmakers who inspected the Sea-Watch 3 said the migrants were suffering mentally after months or years of detention in Libya while waiting for the chance to attempt the dangerous sea crossing to Europe.

For many, having to stay on the rescue ship "is a form of continuation of imprisonment" they experienced in Libya, Riccardo Magi, a lawmaker with the tiny More Europe party, said.

The Italian news agency ANSA quoted Syracuse prosecutor Fabio Scavone as saying the captain requested psychological assistance for the passengers.

Another lawmaker, Stefania Prestigiacomo of the center-right Forza Italia party, said the migrants were exhausted. She noted the boat had only one toilet.

"OK, we're all in agreement that Europe should do more in taking in migrants" rescued at sea, "but let them off" this boat, Prestigiacomo told reporters.

Matteo Salvini, leader of Italy's far-right League party, adopted a policy after Italy's current government took office last year of refusing to let aid group ships put the people they rescue on Italian soil.

Salvini contends the rescue groups benefit human smugglers that charge migrants to cross the Mediterranean in unseaworthy vessels.

He has threatened to send police officers onto the Sea-Watch 3 to investigate if the German aid group was in cahoots with traffickers and said other European countries should let the ship dock.

Following Italy's rejection of private rescue boats and a similar refusal by Malta, Sea-Watch 3 is the only humanitarian aid vessel working to rescue migrants in the central Mediterranean.

While anchored about a mile from the eastern Sicilian port town of Syracuse, the vessel has been unable to be on the lookout for other endangered migrants near Libya.

Italian coast guard brought donated socks, shoes and food Sunday to the 47 boys and men rescued earlier.

The number of migrants reaching Italian ports via the central Mediterranean smuggling route dropped sharply last year. During the previous few years, some 600,000 rescued migrants were brought to Italian ports by the Italian coast guard or navy, other European military ships or cargo vessels.

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Frances D'Emilio is on twitter at www.twitter.com/fdemilio

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