May 29, 2017
PALERMO — Offshore supply ship Vos Thalassa brought 1,042 migrants and seven cadavers to the port of Palermo, Italy around 13:30 yesterday, May 28. The migrants were the first to arrive in Sicily since the island’s ports were closed in occasion of the G7 summit in Taormina.
According to local newspaper La Sicilia, the ship was conducting security operations for an oil rig 40 miles off the Libyan coast when it ran into the first migrant boat. Soon after, Vos Thalassa was asked to stay in the area by the coast guard to assist other nearby migrants.
By the time I reached the port around 10:00 on Monday, May 29, there were still around 350 migrants waiting to be brought to an immigration center nearby. They were still at the port because the immigration center, where they would be properly identified and then directed to a reception facility, was at capacity.
The migrants waited around two large tents; some were sitting outside in the sun while others lay down inside on pieces of cardboard. The tents smelled strongly of urine.
All of the migrants I could see were men, most of them in their twenties or thirties and the vast majority seemed to be from sub-Saharan Africans. There was a fair number of what appeared to be Bangladeshis, and a few North African fellows. Most were silent, while a few talked in small groups. They looked exhausted but healthy, thin and muscular and upright. A medical volunteer told me that there had been fewer illnesses than expected.
Watching them were about twenty Italian police officers, a few medical and emergency personnel, and staff from the IOM, Save the Children and the UNHCR. Two buses sat idling in front of the crowd.
When I arrived there was a discussion between the policeman in charge and some of the NGO staff about which migrants were minors. From what I could understand, 62 of the migrants had claimed to be minors but only 49 were actually. Many migrants lie about their age, they said, with minors claiming that they are adults and vice versa.
Nine people were identified as minors, taken out of the crowd and loaded onto a bus, waving to their friends as they left. The discussion between the policeman and the NGO staff continued as they puzzled over 11 minors present on the list but missing among the crowd. I wonder how accurately minors can be identified without proper documents.
By law, minors who reach Italy cannot be deported and immediately become the charge of the municipality in which they arrive.
Around 1,500 migrants also arrived in Naples on the same day as these, Sunday, May 28, aboard the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) ship Vos Prudence, according to the AP.