Italian island turns away migrant boat with hundreds on board – because it has run out of room

Charity chief warns of 'concrete consequences' of Italians' lack of preparation over how to deal with migrants

Caroline Mortimer
Sunday 19 July 2015 18:54
An Italian policeman stands guard as migrants wait and see if they'll be let ashore
An Italian policeman stands guard as migrants wait and see if they'll be let ashore

Italian authorities have prevented a rescue boat with 700 migrants on board from landing on the island of Sicily because there is not enough room for them.

Just seven people who needed urgent medical attention were let off the boat run by medical charity Medecins Sans Frontiers when it docked on Friday.

The charity said that despite negotiations, the authorities turned it away due to a "lack of capacity in the Italian (migrant) reception system", according to the Local Italy.

Italy has struggled to cope with the influx of more than 80,000 migrants have fled to Europe after fleeing war and persecution in the Middle East and Africa.

More than 1,200 people drowned in a single week in April off the Italian coast in one of the worst migrant boat disasters in history.

Italy has called on its EU partners to do more to help it manage the flow of refugees desperately fleeing across the sea. It scrapped its dedicated search and rescue operation, Mare Nostrum, with the EU’s limited Frontex rescue mission to replace it.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said deaths have risen 50 fold since last year.

The president of Medecins Sans Frontiers’ Italian wing, Loris De Filippi said the "lack of preparation in the Italian system has very concrete consequences that we witness first hand".

"The ministry of interior must authorise boats to disembark at the port in Sicily that is closest to them in order to allow them to return to the search-and-rescue zone as soon as possible in order save other boats," he added.

It comes after Sicilian police arrested three Egyptian men on Friday following the death of a 10-year-old diabetic Syrian girl on a boat when smugglers’ allegedly threw her insulin in the sea.

The boat, packed with 335 people, landed in Sicily on Wednesday after setting sail from Alexandria in Egypt more than a week ago.

Additional reporting by AP

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