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Rescuers call for urgent meeting with Italian PM following coastguard’s failure to prevent 130 refugees from drowning

Meanwhile, the Ocean Viking rescues over 230 people including 114 unaccompanied children off the coast of Libya today

REFUGEE rescuers have called on Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi for an urgent meeting following the deaths of over 100 people in the central Mediterranean last week.

Around 130 people drowned off the coast of Libya last Thursday in a tragedy that would likely have been avoided had the Italian, Libyan and Maltese coastguards properly reacted to distress calls, seven NGOs say in an open letter addressed to Mr Draghi.

The emergency hotline organisation Alarm Phone first alerted the authorities to the people in distress over 24 hours before the NGO rescue ship Ocean Viking found the remains of at least ten bodies and their damaged rubber boat.

“This, Prime Minister, is the reality of the Mediterranean,” says the NGOs’ open letter, signed by Alarm Phone, Emergency, Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Mediterranea, Open Arms, Sea Watch and SOS Mediterranee.

“Since 2014, more than 20,000 men, women and children have died or disappeared in the central Mediterranean, which confirms its sad record as the world’s deadliest migration route.”

The letter hits out at European governments for withdrawing their ships from the central Mediterranean, for coordinating the return of refugees to war-torn Libya, for no longer communicating with NGOs, and for state-led efforts to delegitimise, demonise and criminalise civilian rescuers.

“As reiterated by European Commissioner [Ursula] Von der Leyen herself, ‘saving lives at sea is not optional’, but a precise obligation of states, a legal obligation, therefore, as well as a moral one,” the letter says.

“As NGOs, we are at sea to fill a gap, but we would be ready to step aside if Europe was to set up an effective institutional and coordinated search-and-rescue mechanism whose primary purpose is to rescue people at sea.

“Mr. Prime Minister, we ask you for a meeting to discuss what concrete initiatives can be taken by your government, involving Europe, to ensure coordinated and timely rescue operations, so that saving lives becomes a priority again and unacceptable tragedies such as the shipwrecks of these days are never repeated.”

Meanwhile the Ocean Viking rescued 236 people from two overcrowded rubber boats off the coast of Libya today.

“Several survivors were weak, dehydrated & are now recovering, SOS Mediterranee, the NGO that operates the ship,” said.

“Women suffer mild fuel burns and have inhaled fumes. 114 minors are unaccompanied.”

Read the open letter to Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi in full here.

Published by The Civil Fleet

A news blog and podcast focused on the activist-led refugee rescue and support missions across Fortress Europe

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