Dra­matic res­cue im­ages as EU urged to change tack on mi­grant cri­sis A cluster of emo­tions

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

The hor­ror, ter­ror and joy felt dur­ing per­ilous res­cues of mi­grant boats have been cap­tured in pow­er­ful new im­ages pub­lished yes­ter­day, as the lat­est deadly episode in the Mediter­ranean fu­elled calls for Europe to change tack on the cri­sis.

AFP pho­tog­ra­pher Aris Messinis was on board NGO boat The Astral as it bat­tled to help a num­ber of over­crowded rub­ber dinghies and a larger wooden ves­sel found in dis­tress off the coast of Libya in a fran­tic op­er­a­tion that lasted from dawn un­til af­ter dusk on Tues­day.

Hun­dreds of mainly African mi­grants were hauled to safety but dozens died ag­o­niz­ing deaths from suf­fo­ca­tion as a re­sult of ei­ther toxic fumes or the pan­icked crush of too many bod­ies: 29 of them on one of the dinghies.

Messinis said a fi­nal count yes­ter­day put the death toll at 32 and his pho­to­graphs cap­ture the ex­treme range of emo­tions pro­duced by the drama. Among the most strik­ing is the haunt­ingly poignant re­spect shown by the sur­vivors as they tip­toe over life­less bod­ies on their own way to safety.

In the water, an African man clings des­per­ately to a float thrown in by the res­cuers and stretches his leg out as if he were try­ing to help a fel­low pas­sen­ger floun­der­ing help­lessly a yard (meter) away from him. Or could he have been seek­ing to push him away?

‘Poli­cies not work­ing’

Other im­ages re­veal that there were many small chil­dren on board the boats; one is cry­ing, per­haps sens­ing the pre­vail­ing sense of fear, oth­ers seem to­tally care­free, obliv­i­ous to the panic, in­clud­ing one hoisted above the crush of the crowd. “There must have been about 1,000 peo­ple on board the (larger wooden) boat, spread over three lev­els,” Messinis said. “I went on­board and there was to­tal panic, there were peo­ple jump­ing into the water, peo­ple try­ing to get out (from be­low deck).”

Wil­liam Lacy Swing, the head of the In­ter­na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Mi­gra­tion (IOM) said 3,500 mi­grant deaths in the Mediter­ranean this year showed Europe needed to do some­thing dif­fer­ent. “That is more than all of last year and last year was more than 2014, so clearly our poli­cies are not work­ing as they should be or you wouldn’t have that many peo­ple who are dy­ing,” he told AFP.

Italy’s coast­guard said it co­or­di­nated 33 dif­fer­ent res­cue op­er­a­tions on Tues­day and that 4,655 peo­ple had been saved, tak­ing the to­tal re­cov­ered alive to more than 10,000 in two days. Tues­day’s drama un­der­lined how eas­ily the life­sav­ing ca­pac­i­ties of the multi­na­tional search and res­cue op­er­a­tion off Libya can be­come crit­i­cally stretched.

Baby boom

The Astral, which is op­er­ated by Span­ish NGO ProAc­tiva Open Arms, was on its own for hours af­ter it first came across the stricken boats. A rel­a­tively small con­verted yacht, it could not risk get­ting too close to any of the dis­tressed ves­sels for fear that it could be cap­sized by the pan­icked mi­grants all try­ing to board it at once.

It was not un­til mid­day that an Ital­ian navy ves­sel ar­rived to help. By then it may al­ready have been too late for some of the vic­tims, and it was af­ter 10 pm when the op­er­a­tion was fi­nally wrapped up.

Italy’s coast­guard and the char­ity MSF (Doc­tors with­out Bor­ders) re­ported Wed­nes­day that four preg­nant women who were among the res­cued had given birth on their way to Ital­ian ports.

The num­ber of preg­nant women board­ing mi­grant boats in Libya has in­creased sig­nif­i­cantly this year and it is not un­com­mon for them to go into la­bor as soon as they reach the safety of a res­cue boat. The 10,600 new ar­rivals will raise to more than 140,000 the to­tal num­ber of mi­grants or refugees to have landed in Italy since the start of this year.

The num­bers are in line with the pre­vi­ous two years but Italy is now hav­ing to regis­ter and ac­com­mo­date a big­ger pro­por­tion of them un­der pres­sure from its EU part­ners, putting im­mense strain on its over­crowded re­cep­tion cen­ters and govern­ment cof­fers. —AFP

LIBYA: Mi­grants are res­cued from the Mediter­ranean sea by a mem­ber of Proac­tiva Open Arms NGO in the Mediter­ranean Sea, some 12 nau­ti­cal miles north of Libya, on Oc­to­ber 4, 2016. —AFP

AT SEA: Graphic con­tent / Mi­grants step over dead bod­ies while be­ing res­cued by mem­bers of Proac­tiva Open Arms NGO in the Mediter­ranean Sea, some 12 nau­ti­cal miles north of Libya, on Oc­to­ber 4, 2016. —AFP

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