ROME (Reuters) – A baby was born on a charity rescue boat in the central Mediterranean and flown to Sicily while more than 500 other migrants remain at sea waiting to reach Europe, NGO groups said.
The growing number of migrants stranded at sea risks leading to a new confrontation with Italy’s right-wing government, in a replay of last month’s drama also involving France.
The baby, named Ali, was delivered on Wednesday and airlifted overnight to the Italian island along with the mother and three siblings, the Doctors without Borders (MSF) group said.
“He is in good health, (he weighs) 3.5 kilograms (7.7 pounds), he is a beautiful baby,” MSF staffer Candida Lobes said in a video message.
MSF said another woman, nine months pregnant, was evacuated to Malta, leaving 249 migrants aboard its Geo Barents rescue vessel.
Two other NGO ships, the Humanity 1 and the Louise Michel, respectively have 261 and 33 migrants on board, also waiting for disembarkation.
Italy’s interior ministry had no comment on the three charities’ requests to be assigned a safe port, either in Italy or Malta.
MSF said newborn Ali and his family were sent to Italy after Malta said they would only take him and his mother, separating her from her older children.
“It was clearly unthinkable,” Lobes said.
NGO vessels patrol the waters off Libya and Tunisia, and normally ask Italy or Malta to take in the migrants they rescue, including many reeling from abuse and hardship in Libyan camps.
Malta refuses almost all requests on the grounds that it is too small to handle them, while Italy complains that it cannot be left shouldering the burden alone.
In November, Rome took in three NGO vessels, but refused docking rights for a fourth one, forcing it to sail to France with around 230 people aboard.
The French government complained vehemently, and retaliated by saying it would no longer take in 3,000 migrants already in Italy under a voluntary European burden-sharing deal.
Reporting by Alvise Armellini Editing by Keith Weir
File Photo via SOS Humanity