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10 more refugee lives lost on ‘the world’s deadliest migration route’

Meanwhile, three activists are to stand trial in Greece after saving thousands of lives in the Aegean Sea

AT LEAST ten more refugee lives have been added to the growing number of those lost in the central Mediterranean so far this year.

The international medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) announced on Tuesday night that its rescue ship, the Geo Barents, had rescued 99 people from a severely overcrowded wooden boat less than 30 nautical miles from the Libyan coast.

In the lower deck of the boat were the bodies of ten people. The survivors told the ship’s crew that the dead had spent more than 13 hours cramped down there with the fuel’s intoxicating fumes. The ten likely died from suffocation, MSF said.

“After rescuing all 99 people, we saw the 10 bodies on the bottom,” the Geo Barents’ search-and-rescue (SAR) team leader Fulvia Conte said.

“It took us almost two hours to retrieve them and to bring them on board, so they can have a dignified burial once arrived onshore.”

“It was horrific and infuriating at the same time. This is another tragedy at sea that could have been avoided.”

The Geo Barents returned to the central Mediterranean for its fifth mission last Friday. Since then, it has brought on board a total of 186 people from three rescue operations carried out in both Malta and Libya‘s SAR zones in less than 24 hours.

“We are once more witnessing Europe’s unwillingness to provide the much-needed dedicated and proactive search-and-rescue capacity in the central Mediterranean,” the ship’s project coordinator Caroline Willemen said.

“People endure horrific human rights abuses in Libya and often their only escape is to flee and take an incredibly dangerous journey across the central Mediterranean.”

“It has become the deadliest migration route, and it is shameful. With 186 survivors on board — including relatives of some of the deceased, and people who travelled for hours on the lower deck of the boat amongst the dead bodies — the Geo Barents will urgently be looking for a place of safety to disembark this group of extremely stressed and likely traumatised people.”

The European and Libyan maritime authorities had been alerted to the people in distress by the activist-run distress hotline organisation Alarm Phone and refugee rescuers Sea-Watch hours before the Geo Barents located them.

“We were alerted to over 100 people in distress off Libya,” Alarm Phone said yesterday. “Again, it was the civil fleet who responded. Thank you, MSF.

“For 10 people, rescue came too late. We are so sick of these needless deaths. Our condolences to their families and friends.”

The International Organisation for Migration’s Missing Migrants Project estimates that 1,567 people have died trying to cross the central Mediterranean so far in 2021.

Meanwhile, 307 people were pulled back to Tripoli last night by the EU-supported Libyan coastguards, the United Nation’s refugee agency (UNCHR) announced this afternoon.

The fates of two rubber dinghys — one carrying around 40 people, the other roughly 100 on a partially deflated boat — spotted by Sea-Watch’s reconnaissance aircraft Seabird yesterday remain unknown.

Tomorrow, three activists who saved the lives of thousands of refugees in the Aegean Sea between 2017 and ’18 with Emergency Response Center International will stand trial in Greece.

Sarah Mardini, 23, Sean Binder, 24, and Nassos Karakitsos, 37, have been accused of money laundering, people smuggling, and espionage. They could face 25 years behind bars if found guilty.

Human Right Watch described the charges earlier this month as “no more than an effort to criminalise humanitarian activism on behalf of refugees and migrants in Greece.”

Top image shows the Geo Barents’ rescuers approaching the overcrowded boat yesterday. [Pic: Candida Lobes]

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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