On Sunday, 15 September, the humanitarian ship Ocean Viking was preparing to return to Libya for rescue operations after 82 migrants landed on the Italian island of Lampedusa. The green light given Saturday by Rome to the operation, after a European agreement of distribution of these migrants, marks a turnaround of the new government in relation to the policy of the former Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini, head of the League which had closed the Italian ports to relief vessels.

Sub-Saharan migrants who landed during the night from Saturday to Sunday had their identities verified by the Italian authorities and had medical visits. They had been at sea for more than six days aboard the Ocean Viking, which had rescued 50 of them on 8 September in international waters off Libya, then 34 others transhipped from a sailboat, the Josefa. A pregnant woman and her companion were evacuated Wednesday by helicopter by the Maltese authorities for medical reasons.

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Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which operates the Ocean Viking with SOS Mediterranean, has identified 58 men, 6 women, 17 minors and a one-year-old child. The Ocean Viking, which succeeded the Aquarius, had been carrying out its second Mediterranean mission since September 2nd. At the end of his first expedition at the end of August, he had collected 356 migrants, who had landed in Malta and whose France pledged to receive 150.

"People continue to die in these waters"

According to an ad hoc European agreement, the 82 migrants will be divided between Italy, France and Germany at the rate of 24 for each country, Portugal hosting eight and Luxembourg two, according to Italian media. "After disembarkation, the Ocean Viking must resume its search and rescue mission in the central Mediterranean because people are still dying in these waters where no life-saving ships are currently present," Nicola Stalla, coordinator of search and rescue operations aboard the Ocean Viking.

Beyond this ad hoc agreement, European leaders are trying to establish a temporary mechanism of "automatic distribution" of migrants rescued in the Mediterranean. According to Italian media, it would involve France, Germany, Spain, Luxembourg, Romania, Portugal and Malta.

Between 5,000 and 8,000 migrants waiting for departure

The new Italian government, invested last week, develops its own policy on migration, after 14 months hard line at the initiative of Matteo Salvini. Italy and Malta, the countries of the European Union that are geographically closer to Libya from which most of the migrants attempting the crossing leave, feel that they bear disproportionate responsibility.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is expected to discuss the proposed allocation mechanism with French President Emmanuel Macron at a meeting in Rome on Wednesday.

The project is expected to be discussed in more detail on 23 September in Malta by various European interior ministers before an EU summit in October in Luxembourg. According to Italian media quoting intelligence information on Sunday, between 5,000 and 8,000 migrants are expected to leave Libya by the Mediterranean.

With AFP