Rescue vessel docks in Italy, disembarks 60 migrants

ABOARD GEO BARENTS (AP) — A humanitarian vessel on Wednesday disembarked dozens of African migrants in an Italian coastal town a week after they were rescued in the Mediterranean Sea off conflict-stricken Libya, a charity operating the vessel said.

The Geo Barents, a rescue vessel operated by Doctors Without Borders, docked in the port town of Augusta late Tuesday after Italian authorities gave it permission to offload passengers, the charity, known by its French acronym MSF, said.

There were 60 African migrants, including six women and a seven-week-old child, on board.

Migrants said they were relieved when Barbara Deck, MSF’s project coordinator, announced that Italy had granted the vessel a port of safety. Many cheered and danced while others broke into tears when they saw the shore.

Some still have concerns however.

“We will be fully relieved after we are free,” said Kamal Mezali, a Tunisian migrant. Mezali, who lived and worked in Libya for years, said he plans to bring his two children and wife to establish a “peaceful life” in Italy.

Dr. Andolina Antonio from the Italian health ministry boarded the Geo Barents early Wednesday to oversee rapid COVID-19 testing for the migrants and the vessel’s crew. All tested negative for the coronavirus.

The migrants disembarked at the port where Italian police, representatives of the U.N.’s humanitarian agency, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, were present.

The most youngest migrants and women have been taken for a 10-day quarantine in centers at the port, while the rest would spend their quarantine period aboard a vessel operated by the ICRC.

The migrants were picked up from two separate boats on Sep. 20, a day after they embarked on the risky voyage from the Libyan coastal town of Zawiya.

It was the third rescue mission for the MSF-run Geo Barents this year. The vessel has brought 792 migrants including 43 women to Augusta since June.

The migrants disembarked in Augusta two days after an overcrowded fishing boat with around 700 people on board docked at the island of Lampedusa in what was the single biggest migrant arrival in Italy in years.

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