ROME/BRUSSELS: More than 500 rescued migrants are stuck in the Mediterranean on two NGO boats, as Italy and Malta continue to deny them access to their ports.
French charity group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said late on Monday in a tweet that it had completed “a critical rescue” of another 105 people onto the Ocean Viking, raising the total number of migrants on board ship to 356.
Another 150 migrants remain on board the Spanish charity vessel, the Proactiva Open Arms.
Italy’s hard-line interior minister, Matteo Salvini, reiterated on Tuesday his intent on making sure the two migrant ships don’t enter Italian ports.The United Nations refugee agency urgently appealed to European governments on Tuesday to let two migrant rescue ships disembark more than 500 passengers who remain stranded at sea as countries bicker over who should take responsibility for them.
The people rescued while attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa are on ships chartered by humanitarian aid groups, which the Italian government has banned from its territory. The archipelago nation of Malta has refused to let the ships into the country’s ports.
It’s unclear where they might find safe harbour, even though the Italian island of Lampedusa appears closest. About 150 of the rescued passengers have been on the Spanish-flagged charity ship, the Open Arms, since they were plucked from the Mediterranean 13 days ago.
“This is a race against time,” Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR special envoy for the Central Mediterranean, said in a statement. “Storms are coming, and conditions are only going to get worse.” While the number of migrants reaching Europe by sea has dropped substantially so far this year, UNHCR says nearly 600 people have died or gone missing in waters between Libya, Italy and Malta in 2019.
The agency said many of the people onboard the ships “are reportedly survivors of appalling abuses in Libya.” Cochetel said the ships “must be immediately allowed to dock” and their passengers “allowed to receive much-needed humanitarian aid.” “To leave people who have fled war and violence in Libya on the high seas in this weather would be to inflict suffering upon suffering,” the envoy said.
Published in Dawn, August 14th, 2019