The Mistral Express, the Moroccan ferry carrying 1800 people evacuated last week from Misurata, Libya, disembarked its passengers on 18 March in Morocco at Port Tanger. Most of the evacuees on board were Moroccan citizens. The ship first attempted to sail from Libya to Italy but was blocked by Italian authorities from landing in Sicily. At the time Italian authorities said they prevented the ship from entering Italian waters due to uncertainty regarding the identities of the passengers and because it was unclear whether the passengers were “genuine evacuees”. After the initial stand-off with Italian authorities, the ship entered the Italian port of Augusta on the night of 16-17 March and then left the port early on 17 March for Port Tanger.
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Approximately 2000 new migrants in more than 20 boats arrived in Lampedusa on 14-15 March. Some were rescued and some reached Lampedusa on their own. One boat is believed to have sunk near Tunisia and approximately 35 persons are believed to be missing.
According to a UNHCR briefing yesterday, just over 10,000 migrants, nearly all young Tunisian men, have arrived in Italy since mid-January. UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming said that “[t]he outflow from Tunisia is unrelated to the ongoing crisis in Libya. From our interactions with Tunisians arriving in Italy over past weeks, we believe that most are seeking employment and better economic opportunities, rather than international protection. UN staff and partners in Tunisia report that some villages appear largely empty of their young male population, with only women, children and elderly people remaining. This type of outflow is not atypical of countries in transition, and we are well aware of the many demands on the Tunisian authorities at present. Solutions to this type of flow need to be found in dialogue between the concerned governments, including arrangements for the orderly and dignified return of persons who are found not to be in need of international protection, and the establishment of opportunities for labor migration which can meet the needs of countries on both sides of the Mediterranean.”
The standoff with the Moroccan ferry, the Mistral Express, continues. The ship left Libya several days ago and is located in international waters about 20 miles from the port of Augusta, Sicily. Italian authorities have refused to permit the ship to enter Italian waters and are considering providing fuel to the ship while it remains at sea in order to prevent any of the 1800+ mostly Moroccan passengers from attempting to leave the ship and enter Italy.
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A large ferry, the Mistral Express, carrying approximately 1800 persons was prevented yesterday from entering Italian waters near Sicily by Italian navy or coast guard boats. The ship apparently left the Libyan port of Misurata and most of its passengers are Moroccan. The ship may have been planning to sail to Morocco and may have tried to divert to Italy for purposes of refueling, but the media reports are unclear. It is also unclear who chartered the ship. Italian authorities confirm that they prevented the ship from entering Italian waters due to uncertainty regarding the identities of the passengers. An Italian government spokesperson reportedly said it was unclear whether the passengers were “genuine evacuees” from Libya. It is also unclear whether the ship then tried to sail to Malta. Some media reports say that Malta refused the ship permission to enter Maltese waters. Maltese authorities are reported as saying that this did not occur but according to media reports Maltese authorities said that they would prevent the ship from landing in Malta if it tried to do so for the same reasons advanced by Italy.
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