Pass­ing them by

Aid group: Ships not will­ing to save Mediter­ranean mi­grants

The Western Star - - WORLD - BY FRANCES D’EMILIO

Mi­grants in dis­tress at sea have told their res­cuers that sev­eral ships passed them by with­out offering as­sis­tance, a Euro­pean aid group said Sunday while seek­ing safe har­bour for a res­cue ves­sel with 141 mi­grants aboard.

SOS Mediter­ra­nee in a state­ment said that due to the re­cent re­fusal of Italy and Malta to let res­cue ves­sels car­ry­ing mi­grants dock, ships might be now un­will­ing to get in­volved fear­ing they will be stranded with mi­grants aboard and de­nied a port to dis­em­bark them.

On Fri­day the group’s char­tered ship Aquar­ius, which it op­er­ates in part­ner­ship with Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders, res­cued 141 peo­ple in wa­ters off Libya. Of these, 25 were found adrift on a small wooden boat that had no mo­tor and was be­lieved to have been at sea for about 35 hours, the group said. The other 116 peo­ple, in­clud­ing 67 un­ac­com­pa­nied mi­nors, were res­cued later that day, it said.

Nearly three-quar­ters of those res­cued orig­i­nate from So­ma­lia and Eritrea.

Many mi­grants re­counted how they were “held in in­hu­mane con­di­tions in Libya,” where hu­man traf­fick­ers are based, the aid group aid.

It added that Libya’s res­cue co-or­di­na­tion au­thor­i­ties wouldn’t pro­vide the Aquar­ius with “a place of safety” and asked it to re­quest safe har­bour from an­other coun­try’s au­thor­i­ties.

The Aquar­ius was sail­ing north in the Mediter­ranean Sunday in hopes of re­ceiv­ing dock­ing per­mis­sion from an­other coun­try.

SOS Mediter­ra­nee said that “in a dis­turb­ing de­vel­op­ment, res­cued peo­ple on board told out teams they en­coun­tered five dif­fer­ent ships which did not of­fer them as­sis­tance be­fore they were res­cued by Aquar­ius.”

Aboard Aquar­ius is Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders project co­or­di­na­tor, Aloys Vi­mard, who elab­o­rated.

“It seems the very prin­ci­ple of ren­der­ing as­sis­tance to per­sons in dis­tress at sea is now at stake. Ships might be un­will­ing to re­spond to those in dis­tress due to the high risk of be­ing stranded and de­nied a place of safety,” the state­ment quoted Vi­mard as say­ing.

SOS Mediter­ra­nee said many of those aboard were ex­tremely week and mal­nour­ished.

Those res­cued in re­cent years have said they re­ceive scanty ra­tions while kept in Libya to await the op­por­tu­nity to leave on hu­man smug­glers’ un­sea­wor­thy boats.

“What is of ut­most im­por­tance is that the sur­vivors are brought to a place of safety with­out de­lay, where their ba­sic needs can be met and where they can be pro­tected from abuse,” the group quoted Nick Ro­ma­niuk, its search and res­cue co-or­di­na­tor as say­ing.

In June, Aquar­ius was forced to sail north for days with more than 600 mi­grants to Spain af­ter Italy and Malta re­fused it dock­ing per­mis­sion. Since then, other pri­vate res­cue ves­sels have had to wait for days un­til some coun­try agreed to let mi­grants dis­em­bark.

Italy’s new pop­ulist gov­ern­ment has vowed that no more pri­vate aid ships will bring mi­grants to Ital­ian shores.

AP PHOTO

In this photo taken in the early hours of Thursday night, Aug. 2, 2018 mi­grants wait to be res­cued off the coast of Libya, as res­cuers throw life jack­ets at them and urge them to stay calm.

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