Blam­ing EU coun­tries, aid groups ter­mi­nate Aquar­ius res­cue op­er­a­tions

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - International -

THE LAST refugee res­cue ship work­ing in the Mediter­ranean Sea, Aquar­ius, has ended her op­er­a­tions, said Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders, known by its French acro­nym MSF late on Thurs­day, blam­ing ha­rass­ment from Italy and other coun­tries. “This is a somber day,” Nelke Man­der, MSF’s gen­eral direc­tor, said in a state­ment. “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 Mediter­ranée 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,” aid group said. The Aquar­ius has been docked in Mar­seille since Oc­to­ber af­ter Panama re­voked its flag. Last month, Ital­ian pros­e­cu­tors or­dered the seizure of the ship and ac­cused MSF of il­le­gally dis­pos­ing 24 met­ric tons of med­i­cal and con­tam­i­nated waste ac­cu­mu­lated dur­ing res­cues.

Ital­ian In­te­rior Minister Mat­teo Salvini has re­peat­edly closed Ital­ian ports to the Aquar­ius, 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 Euro­pean Union coun­tries take a share of mi­grants. He also said the res­cue ships like Aquar- ius en­cour­aged peo­ple to take the sea to cross to­wards 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.

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

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

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