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Europe’s humanitarian crisis will not stop for Christmas, rescuers warn

Close to 800 refugees on the Sea-Eye 4, Ocean Viking and Geo Barents ships are in need of dry land

THE humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean will not stop for Christmas, civilian rescuers carrying close to 800 refugees warned today.

Three rescue ships, the Sea-Eye 4, Ocean Viking and Geo Barents, are currently operating in the central Mediterranean.

The Sea-Eye 4 was today finally granted permission to disembark its 214 rescued refugees in Pozzallo on the Italian island of Sicily.

The crew saved the lives of 223 people in the Malta‘s search-and-rescue (SAR) zone in a total of four rescue operations on December 16 and 17. Though Malta is legally obliged to assist anyone in distress at sea within its SAR zone, it has refused to do so once again.

“We hope that people will be able to go ashore soon and not have to spend Christmas on board,” Sea-Eye chairman Gorden Isler said today.

“Many of the rescued people had to receive medical treatment aboard and they are going to continue to need medical care on land.”

During the ship’s week-long wait for a port, nine people had to be evacuated by the Italian coastguard for medical reasons.

“We are infinitely relieved that people are finally allowed to go ashore,” Mr Isler said. “It is significant that even on Christmas Eve, people are being brought to safety by sea rescuers. The humanitarian crisis does not take a Christmas vacation.

“We are particularly grateful to the civil society sea rescue alliance United4Rescue, who made this additional rescue mission possible,” he said.

SOS Mediterranee, the charity behind the Ocean Viking, warned today that the 114 survivors aboard its ship are showing signs of exhaustion and anxiety after spending a week at sea.

The Ocean Viking’s crew discovered the survivors on December 16, floating in a rubber dinghy in international waters off the coast of Libya. Among the rescued are women travelling alone, two children under eight, and two newborns.

“Despite the utmost care provided by the Ocean Viking teams, signs of fatigue, exhaustion and anxiety are increasing among the survivors,” SOS Mediterranee said today.

“Their plight at sea, following their recent near-death experience, and the uncertainty they are facing, must end.”

One of the rescued children told the Ocean Viking’s crew today how “in Libya, you can be killed only for a phone. People came at night with knives and put them on my body… asking for my phone. I only used it to call my family, but they took it. You never sleep safely in Libya. […] It was very hard. […] Staying in Libya is not safe.”

Also amongst the rescued is newborn Makbyel, who was just 11 days old when the Ocean Viking’s crew saved them and their mother. Today, SOS Mediterranee said, he has spent almost half his life at sea.

“In this cold and in confined spaces, the situation can only get worse by the hour for the survivors onboard Ocean Viking,” the ship’s SAR coordinator Luisa Albera said.

“A ship, as well equipped as possible, can only be a short-term solution. Imposing a prolonged period at sea on people who have already suffered so much puts their physical and mental health at further risk.

“These past three years, we have been repeatedly stranded at sea with shipwrecked people onboard: we know the implications of such difficult situations too well. They lead to grave consequences, acute psychological distress and increasing deterioration of physical health. We must disembark now.”

Also at sea is the Doctors Without Borders’ (MSF) ship, Geo Barents, which this morning brought on board 76 more people. It now carries 458 rescued people.

After the crew’s second operation yesterday, MSF posted a video on social media of a small child being lifted onto the Geo Barents.

Above it, the charity said: “We’ve just completed a night rescue of 27 survivors from a small boat after an alert from [Alarm Phone].

“There are several young children in this group who should never have had to face this ordeal.”

Many of those aboard the Geo Barents have violence related injuries and are receiving treatment from MSF’s medical teams, the ship’s field communication manager Eloise Liddy said yesterday.

Finally, the distress hotline organisation Alarm Phone warned this evening that no state actors have responded to its activists’ alerts regarding a boat in serious danger in Malta’s SAR zone.

“Alarm Phone is in contact with a group who left Libya two days ago and is in urgent need of rescue,” the organisation said.

“[The] authorities are alerted but refuse responsibility or are not reachable at all.”

Alarm Phone’s last update before The Civil Fleet published this story. read: “No state actors are [responding] to our calls. We alerted the closest merchant vessels Ascalon and Green Brazil to intervene. We demand [they] send out a MAYDAY immediately!”

Top image shows children colouring on the deck of the Sea-Eye 4 [Pic: Camilla Kranzusch/Sea-Eye]

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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