Span­ish aid boat, blocked by Italy, saves 39 more mi­grants

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NATION & WORLD - By Va­le­rio Ni­colosi and Joseph Wil­son

LAMPE­DUSA, Italy — A pri­vate res­cue ship that has re­mained at sea with 121 mi­grants af­ter be­ing de­nied per­mis­sion to en­ter ports in two Euro­pean coun­tries res­cued 39 more peo­ple Sat­ur­day, a Span­ish aid group said, fur­ther com­pli­cat­ing con­di­tions on and off board.

The Open Arms made its lat­est res­cue in in­ter­na­tional wa­ters in the cen­tral Mediter­ranean Sea, where it has idled for nine days af­ter pick­ing up two other groups at­tempt­ing to make the per­ilous cross­ing.

Italy and Malta both re­fused to al­low the aid group’s ship into their ports af­ter the Aug. 2 mis­sions. Malta of­fered to let the ship dis­em­bark the 39 new pas­sen­gers Sat­ur­day, but con­tin­ued to re­ject the orig­i­nal 121, aid group founder Os­car Camps said.

“We can­not evac­u­ate 39 peo­ple and tell the rest that they have to stay,” Camps said.

Malta’s pro­posal to take some of the res­cued mi­grants while leav­ing the rest on the ship in­creased the ten­sion on the ship, he said.

“So we told the Mal­tese au­thor­i­ties that if they can­not evac­u­ate all of them, we will con­tinue to wait for the de­fin­i­tive evac­u­a­tion due to se­ri­ous prob­lems of se­cu­rity and to keep or­der on the boat,” Camps said.

The Mal­tese govern­ment said it was will­ing to take the 39 mi­grants be­cause their boat was in the coun­try’s des­ig­nated searc­hand-res­cue area and Malta had launched its own op­er­a­tion be­fore the Open Arms reached it.

But the govern­ment said in a state­ment that the other 121 mi­grants had been picked up “in an area where Malta is nei­ther re­spon­si­ble nor the com­pe­tent co­or­di­nat­ing author­ity.”

“Malta can only shoul­der its own re­spon­si­bil­ity since other so­lu­tions are not forth­com­ing,” the state­ment con­tin­ued.

A new Ital­ian law per­mits fines of up to $1.1 mil­lion against the own­ers of res­cue ships op­er­ated by non­profit groups that en­ter Italy’s wa­ters with­out per­mis­sion.

The law is In­te­rior Min­is­ter Mat­teo Salvini’s most re­cent ac­tion to stop aid groups’ res­cue ships, which he al­leges en­cour­age peo­ple smug­gling from North Africa and bur­den Italy with asy­lum-seek­ers.

Salvini said he has signed or­ders specif­i­cally ban­ning the Open Arms and the Nor­we­gian-flagged mi­grant res­cue ship Ocean Vik­ing from Ital­ian ter­ri­tory.

“Italy is not a refugee camp for Europe. Go ei­ther to Spain or Nor­way,” he told RAI state tele­vi­sion.

The Ocean Vik­ing, run by the groups Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders and SOS Mediter­ra­nee, res­cued 85 mi­grants in the cen­tral Mediter­ranean on Fri­day and an­other 80 on Sat­ur­day, bring­ing the num­ber on board to 165 peo­ple.

The Open Arms ship cur­rently is in in­ter­na­tional wa­ters near the Ital­ian is­land of Lampe­dusa, but the crew is stay­ing out of Italy’s ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters de­spite the de­te­ri­o­rat­ing con­di­tions on board.

How­ever, founder Camps sounded a de­fi­ant note at a Sat­ur­day news con­fer­ence on Lampe­dusa, say­ing that un­der mar­itime law hu­man­i­tar­ian needs trump all else.

“We hu­man­i­tar­ian or­ga­ni­za­tions that are work­ing at sea will re­sist, and no de­cree, no fine, no politi­cian will stop us from pro­tect­ing hu­man life,” Camps said.

Ac­tor Richard Gere, who rented a boat to take food and wa­ter to The Open Arms on Fri­day, also called for pol­i­tics to be set aside when lives are in dan­ger.

“Th­ese are ex­tra­or­di­nary peo­ple, they are so strong, they have been such through such hor­rors,” Gere said about his visit with the res­cued pas­sen­gers. “Their pas­sage from their home coun­ties to Libya, what they had to en­dure, the women above all. The women had been all raped, mul­ti­ple times. The men tor­tured in prison, not just once but mul­ti­ple times.

“What most peo­ple re­fer to as mi­grants, I re­fer to as refugees that are run­ning from a fire.”

The In­ter­na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Mi­gra­tion says 840 peo­ple have died this year cross­ing the Mediter­ranean. That fig­ure is down by half from a year ear­lier.

VA­LE­RIO NI­COLOSI/AP

Ac­tor Richard Gere, right, talks with mi­grants aboard The Open Arms, a Span­ish hu­man­i­tar­ian boat, on Fri­day.

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