Mediter­ranean’s last refugee res­cue ship ends op­er­a­tions

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - WORLD -

PARIS/MAR­SEILLE, France: The last refugee res­cue ship work­ing in the Mediter­ranean Sea, Aquar­ius, has ended her op­er­a­tions, Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders (MSF) said late Thurs­day, blam­ing ha­rass­ment from Italy and other coun­tries. “This is a somber day,” Nelke Man­der, MSF’s gen­eral di­rec­tor, stated. “The end of our op­er­a­tions on­board the Aquar­ius will mean more death in the sea, deaths that are avoid­able and with­out wit­nesses.”

The de­ci­sion to moor the Aquar­ius is the re­sult of a “con­stant den­i­gra­tion, smear­ing and ob­struc­tion cam­paign led” against MSF and SOS Mediter­ranean by the Ital­ian gov­ern­ment and sup­ported by other Euro­pean coun­tries, the NGO said.

The Aquar­ius was re­cently ac­cused of traf­fick­ing waste and crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties – ac­cu­sa­tions that are “ludicrous,” MSF said.

Ital­ian In­te­rior Minister Mat­teo Salvini has re­peat­edly closed Ital­ian ports to the ship, forc­ing it to sail for days with dozens of res­cued mi­grants aboard to find a port in other coun­tries.

Salvini has re­fused to take more mi­grants from the Aquar­ius, de­mand­ing other EU coun­tries take a share. He also said the res­cue ships like Aquar­ius en­cour­aged peo­ple to take the sea to cross to­ward Europe.

Europe has seen the big­gest in­flux of peo­ple for decades in the past three years, many flee­ing con­flicts and poverty in the Mid­dle East and Africa. Sea ar­rivals have dropped sharply, but the po­lit­i­cal af­ter­shocks are still re­ver­ber­at­ing.

Ad­di­tion­ally the U.N. voiced con­cern Fri­day at the MSF char­ity’s de­ci­sion to re­tire its Aquar­ius res­cue ship amid al­leged ob­struc­tion by some Euro­pean coun­tries, say­ing more ca­pac­ity was needed to save mi­grants stranded in the Mediter­ranean.

“Search and res­cue ca­pac­ity needs to be re­in­forced rather than di­min­ished,” U.N. refugee agency spokes­woman Shabia Man­too re­ported, stress­ing the need to leave “space for NGOs to con­trib­ute in a co­or­di­nated man­ner to these ef­forts. Sav­ing lives is our pri­mary con­cern.”

The ship, com­mis­sioned in Fe­bru­ary 2016, has res­cued al­most 30,000 peo­ple in in­ter­na­tional wa­ters off Libya, Malta and Italy. She has stayed moored on Mar­seilles since Oct. 4, af­ter trans­fer­ring 58 mi­grants on Malta in her last mis­sion.

MSF es­ti­mates 2,133 peo­ple died at­tempt­ing to cross the Mediter­ranean in 2018, mainly em­bark­ing from Libya. –

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