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Three-day ordeal over for 86 refugees abandoned by Malta

The Nadir hands over the rescued to the Italian authorities after seeing off the Libyan Coastguard. Meanwhile, the Geo Barents is finally allowed to bring 410 refugees to dry land

THE THREE-day ordeal for 86 refugees abandoned by the Maltese maritime authorities as they drifted across the Mediterranean came to an end today when their rescuers handed them over to the Italian Coastguard.

The Nadir, a new human rights monitoring ship operated by German charity ResQship, found the 86 people adrift on a wooden boat inside Malta’s search-and-rescue zone around noon yesterday.

The 86 had contacted the activist-run emergency hotline organisation Alarm Phone in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

But, 10 hours after Alarm Phone had alerted the Malta Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) to the emergency within its SAR zone, no rescue operation had yet been launched.

Among the people on the wooden boat, ResQship said, were several children and three pregnant women. One person received medical treatment after they had lost consciousness.

“The people had already been on the water for 48 hours, drifting unmaneuverable in the central Mediterranean Sea after their engine failed,” ResQship said.

The crew decided to bring the 86 people aboard their small vessel and wait for a larger ship to take them to a safe port.

When the Nadir’s crew contacted the Maltese, they were told that MRCC had ordered a nearby merchant ship, the Lady Nuray, to change course and head toward the refugees’ position.

But the Lady Nuray refused to change course, and claimed that it had not been contacted by MRCC.

Later that evening, ResQship warned: “The so-called Libyan Coastguard has been at the scene. They strongly urged our crew to participate in illegally pushing back the people to Libya.

“Meanwhile, [the] Maltese authorities still refuse to coordinate the case, putting the lives of many people in serious danger.”

Then, this afternoon, ResQship announced that the Italian Coastguards had come to help.

“Huge relief aboard the Nadir. In the early morning hours, the Italian coastguard offered their help and sent a ship that now brings the 86 people to a safe port in Italy. We thank the Italian authorities for their support,” ResQship posted on social media.

Meanwhile, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) also announced today that the 410 refugees on its rescue ship, Geo Barents, had finally been allocated a port in Augusta on the Italian island of Sicily.

The ship originally requested the Italian and Maltese authorities provide them with a safe port to disembark the rescued on Saturday.

Yesterday, the United Nation’s refugee agency (UNHCR) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) issued a joint statement condemning the return of refugees and migrants to Libya, following the Vos Triton incident this week.

The supply ship Vos Triton rescued 270 people (formerly thought to be around 180) on Monday and then handed them over to the Libyan Coastguard.

The UNHCR and IOM confirmed yesterday what the civilian refugee rescue organisations feared would happen to the intercepted.

“On 15 June, the Libyan Coastguard returned them to the main port of Tripoli, from where they were taken into detention by the Libyan authorities,” the UNHCR and IOM statement said.

“The two organisations reiterate that no one should be returned to Libya after being rescued at sea. Under international maritime law, rescued individuals should be disembarked at a place of safety.

“Migrants and refugees disembarked in Libya often end up in appalling conditions, where they may be exposed to abuse and extortion. Others go missing and are unaccounted for, raising fears that some may have been channelled into human trafficking networks.”

Top image, taken from the Seabird reconnaissance plane, shows the Nadir approaching a wooden boat carrying 86 refugees in the Mediterranean Sea (Pic: Sea-Watch)

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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