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UNHCR welcomes Italian government's ship agreement

Briefing notes

UNHCR welcomes Italian government's ship agreement

26 October 2004

On Saturday morning, UNHCR staff from Malta and Italy, who were helping negotiate an end to the saga involving 13 asylum seekers stuck on board the freighter Lydia Oldendorff in international waters off Malta's coast, received the heartening news that the Italian government had agreed to accept the people back in Italy, where they had first set foot two weeks earlier.

The ship departed shortly afterwards and arrived in the Sicilian port of Augusta around 19:00 hrs on Saturday, with two UNHCR staff on board. After medical checks, the asylum seekers were transferred to the closed centre in Caltanissetta, also in Sicily. We understand they will be moved later this week to an open asylum centre. Despite the very difficult psychological and physical conditions they had endured, the asylum seekers seemed to be in reasonably good health, and obviously extremely relieved to be off the boat.

UNHCR welcomes the decision of the Italian government to finally receive these 13 asylum seekers, thereby fulfilling its international and European legal obligations. UNHCR would also like to express its appreciation to the ship's owner, Matthias Dabelstein, and the captain and crew for the patient and responsible way in which they handled this difficult and drawn-out episode.