A day for ‘sadness and rage’ as pregnant woman dies and 22 others go missing at Europe’s deadly Mediterranean border

MSF’s Geo Barents rescue ship pulls 71 people from shipwreck

RESCUERS reacted with “sadness and rage” today following news of the death of a pregnant woman and 22 others in the central Mediterranean yesterday.

The Geo Barents rescue ship came upon a sinking rubber boat in the evening after her crew was alerted to a distress case by the activist-run hotline organisation Alarm Phone.

The ship’s operators, Doctors Without Borders (MSF), said today that it took the ship three hours to reach the refugees.

“What we faced yesterday was our worst nightmare coming true,” the Geo Barent’s search-and-rescue team leader Riccardo Gatti said today.

“When we got closer to the boat in distress, and we could see it with our binoculars, we understood how complicated this rescue would be.

“The boat was sinking with dozens of people trapped, while many were already in the water.”

The rescuers managed to pulled 71 people out of the water. But 22 others are missing.

“Two women have already told our teams that they lost their children at sea; another young woman explained she lost her little brother,” MSF said today.

“Currently, several people are still very weak and looked after by the medical team. All of them are severely traumatised and shocked.

“All of them are exhausted, and many present seawater ingestion and hypothermia symptoms after many hours in the water.

“A baby was found without any vital signs and was resuscitated on the ship. Urgent medical evacuations to Malta were organised for him and his mother during the night.”

A Cameroonian man who was rescued last night told MSF: “We were in the sea for 19 hours before we were rescued. All these hours, I saw many people drowning. I am happy that I was saved, but it comes with a lot of tears.”

Reacting to the news, Alarm Phone said: “We feel sadness and rage about the tragedy of this group in distress, who called us in panic.

“Again, the civilian fleet was the only actor responding in time. Our thoughts are with the families of the missing and dead. We also send strength to the crew of the Geo Barents.

“Borders kill!”

Sea-Watch — a German refugee rescue organisation whose ship, Sea-Watch 4, had been waiting to disembark 304 people since June 20 — also expressed its solidarity today.

“This year, at least 850 people have already lost their lives in the Mediterranean. How can it be that nobody gives a shit about this?”

Last night, the authorities finally responded to the Sea-Watch 4’s repeated calls for a port. The ship disembarked everyone on Porto Empedocle on the Italian island of Sicily today.

European rescue organisation SOS Mediterranee said it was lost for words.

“Our hearts go out to those who lost children, siblings and friends, to the survivors of this horrific tragedy and to the Geo Barents team assisting them. Together we mourn the 23 lives lost in the Mediterranean.

“Enough search and rescue capacity and efficient coordination is desperately needed to avoid these unbearable tragedies on Europe’s doorsteps.

“At least 721 people already died in the central Mediterranean in 2022. What more needs to happen for Europe to take action to prevent these deaths?”

Meanwhile, SOS Mediterranee’s ship, Ocean Viking, is now carrying 156 survivors — including 68 unaccompanied minors, six children and a 9-month-old baby.

The Ocean Viking’s crew rescued 66 people in Malta‘s search-and-rescue (SAR) zone on Monday, 75 people on Sunday and 15 people last Friday in Libya‘s SAR zone.

Also, the 59 people who had been rescued last Friday night by the Banksy-funded rescue ship Louise Michel were disembarked in Lampedusa late last night.

After the rescue, the Louise Michel crew said some of the rescued were already in the water by the time they arrived on scene “due to dangerous manoeuvres of the so-called Libyan coastguard, who were guided to the case by a Maltese helicopter.”

The crew shared a message to Europe from one of their guests yesterday.

“We want to enter Italy because we are fleeing difficult living conditions, as well as difficult political crises and situations, where the respect of human beings or human rights do not exist,” said the anonymous person quoted by Louise Michel.

“There are people among us who do not find daily sustenance. We don’t want to return to Libya because they don’t respect human beings or human rights, and there are many human rights violations inside Libyan prisons where again, they don’t respect human beings or their rights

“We would like to thank the Louise Michel ship and its crew who saved us from death and rescued us from the hands of the Libyan militias.”

Elsewhere, at least 23 people died and 76 others injured while trying to cross the border between Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Melilla last Friday.

Ravina Shamdasani, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said today that the organisation was “deeply disturbed” by the deaths and injuries and called for an independent investigation to establish the circumstances of the deaths and injuries.

“This is the highest recorded number of deaths in a single incident over many years of migrants attempting to cross from Morocco to Europe via the Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta,” Ms Shamdasani said.

“We have received reports of migrants beaten with batons, kicked, shoved, and attacked with stones by Moroccan officials as they tried to scale the barbed-wire fence, some six to 10 metres high, separating Morocco from Melilla.

“We call on Morocco and Spain to ensure respect for the human rights of migrants at their joint border and, in particular, that their border officers refrain from any use of excessive force against migrants.”

An open letter issued on Sunday by 49 human rights groups — including Alarm Phone, Louise Michel, Borderline Europe and Mediterranea: Saving Humans — said the tragedy was another consequence of the European Union’s policy of externalising its borders.

“The death of these young Africans at the borders of ‘Fortress Europe’ is a warning of the deadly nature of the security cooperation on immigration between Morocco and Spain.”

While the UN and other authorities have put the death toll at 23, NGOs say the number could actually be as high as 37.


Top image shows a woman being pulled from the sea into one of the Geo Barent’s Rhibs. [Pic: MSF]

Published by Ben Cowles

Is a journalist and podcaster

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