Santa Pola fish­er­men's tears

Malta takes mi­grants to end long stand-off at sea

Costa Blanca News (North Edition) - - NEWS - By Alex Watkins awatkins@cb­

THE 12 mi­grants res­cued from the sea off the coast of Libya by the crew of a Span­ish fish­ing boat from Santa Pola on Novem­ber 22 are on dry land again.

They had been run­ning out of food and fuel aboard the over­crowded Nues­tra Madre Loreto, and one was so un­well that he had to be evac­u­ated by he­li­copter on Fri­day and taken to hos­pi­tal in Malta.

On Sun­day the 13 fish­er­men had de­cided to head back to Spain against the in­struc­tions of their gov­ern­ment, which was in­sist­ing they must go to Libya un­der in­ter­na­tional law as it was the near­est ‘safe port’.

The crew had in­sisted Libya was too dan­ger­ous for them and their pas­sen­gers, a po­si­tion sup­ported by the United Na­tions High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees (UN­HCR), but nowhere else would let them dock ei­ther and they were stranded at sea for 10 days.

Later on Sun­day morn­ing the Span­ish and Mal­tese gov­ern­ments reached an agree­ment and a coast­guard ves­sel from the is­land met them at sea and took the 11 re­main­ing mi­grants to the port of Val­letta.

The Mal­tese min­is­ter for the in­te­rior, Michael Far­ru­gia said that ‘once they have re­ceived med­i­cal at­ten­tion they will be re­lo­cated in Spain’.

This has not been con­firmed by the Span­ish gov­ern­ment, which in­di­cated it will de­cide their fu­ture on a case by case ba­sis.

The mi­grants – who say they are from So­ma­lia, Egypt, Su­dan, Nige­ria and Sene­gal – were among al­most 50 peo­ple in three boats try­ing to flee war-torn Libya.

They jumped into the sea when a pa­trol boat came and took the oth­ers back there.

When a team from the NGO Proac­tiva came aboard the Loreto to pro­vide med­i­cal as­sis­tance on Novem­ber 24, doc­tor Va­le­ria Sot­tani said the mi­grants all had re­cent in­juries and one claimed to have lost the sight in an eye from beat­ings in a Libyan de­ten­tion cen­tre.

They as­sured that mi­grants in Libya are im­pris­oned, en­slaved and tor­tured un­less their fam­i­lies pay a ran­som, and one in­sisted death was prefer­able to re­turn­ing there.

The NGO re­turned to the Loreto on Fri­day, af­ter the oc­cu­pants had en­dured a fe­ro­cious storm, and it was de­cided one of the pas­sen­gers re­quired hos­pi­tal­i­sa­tion.

Af­ter all the mi­grants had dis­em­barked, the vice-cap­tain of the fish­ing boat, Vi­cente Sam­pere said the crew were very re­lieved and their pas­sen­gers even more so.

“There were a lot of hugs, they gave us a thumbs up and put their hands on their hearts in a ges­ture of thanks, which was enough to make us cry,” he ex­plained.

The Nue­stro Madre Loreto, which had al­ready been at sea for a month, has headed to Li­cata in Si­cily to re­fuel and buy pro­vi­sions, then will con­tinue fish­ing un­til De­cem­ber 21 or 22, when they had orig­i­nally been due to re­turn home.

Back in Santa Pola, the coun­cil and hun­dreds of res­i­dents at­tended two ral­lies in sup­port of the crew, and called for them to be pre­sented with of­fi­cial recog­ni­tion of their hu­man­i­tar­i­an­ism, brav­ery and self-sac­ri­fice.

The Nues­tra Madre Loreto at sea

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