Three migrants blocked on a rescue ship in Sicily leapt into the sea in desperation Monday, trapped in a standoff between charities that patrol the Mediterranean and Italy's new hard-right government.
The three men were quickly pulled from the water after jumping off the Geo Barents, a ship run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), a spokesman said.
MSF is one of the handful of charities that rescue migrants at risk of drowning during the perilous crossing from North Africa to Europe, which are now in the crosshairs of new Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's government.
Shortly after the men jumped in the sea, a dozen other migrants standing on the deck of the ship chanted "Help Us", an AFP journalist witnessed.
The MSF spokesman said one of the men who jumped had been trying to save the other two.
The Geo Barents docked in the Sicilian port of Catania on Sunday and Italian authorities allowed 357 people to disembark, including children, while refusing entry to 215 others.
Meloni's government, the most right-wing since World War II, has promised to stop the tens of thousands of people who land on Italy's shores each year.
- Psychological stress -
Many were suffering "infectious dermatological diseases, and their situation, their level of psychological stress is very, very high", Riccardo Gatti, the chief of search and rescue at MSF, told AFP at the port.
"The ship has its limitations in terms of medical assistance, a ship is like an ambulance and people are still in the ambulance," he said.
Docked nearby was the German-flagged Humanity 1, which disembarked 144 people on Sunday but which still has 35 adult male migrants onboard who were similarly refused permission by authorities to go ashore.
A government decree issued Friday said the ship was only allowed to dock at Catania for the time it took to help those in "emergency conditions".
Its operator, the charity SOS Humanity, said authorities decided after a "brief" medical exam that the 35 men were "healthy", but that no translator attended and there was no psychological evaluation.
SOS Humanity said it was taking legal action against the government.
And the ship's captain, Joachim Ebeling, who has defied an order to leave the port, insisted "every rescued person has the right to disembark in a port of safety".
"I'm not going anywhere with these people onboard," he told reporters Monday.
Amnesty International has also urged Italy to stop discriminating, saying "the law of the sea is clear; a rescue ends when all those rescued are disembarked in a place of safety".
Italy was "violating its international obligations", the rights organisation said.