Malta refuses to help over 50 unaccompanied children rescued in its waters to reach dry land

The Open Arms rescue ship saved the lives of 265 people between New Year’s Eve and January 2nd

MALTA is refusing to help six babies and over 50 unaccompanied children just 38 miles off its coast reach dry land, despite the fact that many of them were rescued within waters the island nation’s coastguard is responsible for.

The Spanish NGO refugee rescue ship Open Arms saved 265 people from near-certain death in the central Mediterranean between New Year’s Eve and January 2.

Just 20 minutes before the end of last year, the crew rescued 169 soaking-wet people adrift on a wooden boat in Libya’s search-and-rescue (SAR) zone after receiving their GPS position from fellow NGOs Alarm Phone and Pilots Volunteers.

Then on Saturday, following another tip off from Alarm Phone’s refugee distress hotline, Open Arms found another wooden boat carrying 96 people roughly 100 miles from Malta and 50 miles from the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Despite the rescue taking place in Malta’s own SAR zone, Open Arms SAR co-ordinator Esther Camps told The Civil Fleet today that the authorities refused to take responsibility for the rescue.

“The rescue was in their waters, and so they have to collaborate with us and try as much as possible to give us a port of safety,” Ms Camps told The Civil Fleet.

“But, no. Malta is completely closed. It doesn’t want to help us.

“So now we’re trying to reach Italy. We’re sending them all the medical reports on the situation on board and we’re waiting for a response. But we still don’t know if we’re going to be given a port soon or not.”

Ms Camps said the children on board the ship were fine for the moment.

“The youngest were very skinny. They are severally malnourished. Now they’re better. We have the medical team checking them constantly.

“We brought several toys on here in case we found any children because it was Christmas. They look happy.

“The mothers are resting because they were very exhausted. And while they rest, we can play with the children.

‘The biggest issue is that we have a nine-month pregnant woman here. She could give birth at any moment.”

The Open Arms was last at sea in November when it saved the lives of 259 people. Perhaps because of the crew’s dramatic second rescue, in which five refugees died when their rubber boat split in half, the Italian authorities were relatively quick to provide them with a port to disembark the rescued.

Ms Camps told The Civil Fleet she hopes the authorities will be quick this time too.

“Usually, we have to wait between five and seven days. But we hope that this time it will be less because of the weather, and the sea condition is getting worse. The wind is blowing harder everyday, and we have a lot of people on the deck.

“We have 51 unaccompanied minors on board and six babies. But this is not a place for babies.

“This boat was made to carry out rescues and to bring people to shore as soon as possible, not to be loitering around with 265 people, sleeping in the open air with a blanket.”

Not Christmas nor New Year’s, nor even a global pandemic will stop desperate people fleeing from war-torn Libya across the sea, Ms Camps added.

“We’re the only rescue ship in the central Mediterranean. We can’t make much more of a difference because the area is huge and our ship is too small.

“We try to do our best but there is always someone lost in the sea.

“Even in the bad weather, people are still going out into the sea. But, well, as long as we are sailing north and waiting for a port, more people will drown in the central Mediterranean because no-one else is there and no-one is going there.”

Armed Forces Malta and Rescue Co-ordination Centre Malta have been approached for comment. 

Top image shows members of the Open Arms crew standing on a wooden boat in the central Mediterranean. Pic by Open Arms

Published by Ben Cowles

Is a journalist and podcaster

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