MSF, SOS Mediterranean and Sea-Watch call on European states to resume search-and-rescue missions as thousands continue to flee Libya
TWO refugees aboard an NGO ship have attempted to throw themselves into the Mediterranean Sea, their rescuers said today as the European authorities fail to act on 13 requests for a safe port.
The Geo Barents, a refugee rescue ship operated by internation medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF), carried out 11 rescues in just 72 hours in the central Mediterranean last week.
On board the ship are 659 survivors, including 159 children – the youngest being less than one month.
“Yesterday, two persons tried to throw themselves over board in an act of desperation, including one person who made the attempt twice,” MSF said on social media today.
“Another person has expressed suicidal ideation to our team.
“Survivors of torture, labour exploitation and violent physical assaults identified by our teams are in need of specialised protection services which are not available on the ship, and the current situation is delaying their access to appropriate care.”
An MSF spokesperson told The Civil Fleet today: “After such a traumatic event, and about seven days stranded at sea since they have been rescued, the physical and psychological well-being of the survivors is at stake.
“The survivors are exhausted and still exposed to the heat. We expect their health conditions to worsen over the next hours/days and tensions to rise.
“Several requests for a place of safety were sent to the Italian and Maltese authorities but no designation of port has been received so far.
“This situation cannot last any longer.”
Earlier today, MSF, together with fellow rescue organisations SOS Mediterranee and Sea-Watch, urgently called on European states to rapidly redeploy their search-and-rescue (SAR) ships, aeroplanes and other maritime assets to the central Mediterranean.
Had the NGO ships not been at sea this summer, then hundreds of people “would have been left to their fate in international waters off Libya, on the world’s deadliest sea migration route since 2014,” the rescuers said.
Over 19,737 people have died or gone missing in the central Mediterranean since that year, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
The rescuers hit out Europe’s constant delays in assigning NGO ships with a port, and their co-operation with the Libyan coastguards — who “systematically forcibly return the survivors to Libya, which cannot be considered as a place of safety according to the UN.”
MSF SAR representative Juan Matias Gil said: “Since the beginning of the summer season, our team has conducted three missions at sea. Unfortunately, the first rescue ended tragically, with nearly 30 people missing and one woman who did not make it.
“Covering the void of the state-led [SAR] fleet is simply not enough given the needs and increasing capacity in the central Mediterranean is more than necessary.”
SOS Mediterranee’s director of operations Xavier Lauth said: “Keeping survivors stranded at sea for days waiting to disembark in a place of safety is an additional violence imposed on already extremely vulnerable people.”
His organisation’s ship, the Ocean Viking, disembarked 387 people in Salerno, Italy, last Saturday (July 30th), after spending over a week at sea.
“The removal of adequate and competent European [SAR] services in international waters off Libya has proven to be deadly and ineffective in preventing dangerous crossings.”
Sea-Watch spokesperson Mattea Weihe said: “While the European authorities are not willing to fulfil their duty to rescue people at sea, they are also delaying the disembarkation of rescued people by NGOs.”
“This unnecessary waiting for days exhausts the rescued people: they have survived the Mediterranean, but instead of finding safety, they have to wait for days at the closed gates of Europe for their human rights to be respected.”
Meanwhile, ResQship announced today that it’s monitoring vessel, the Nadir, rescued 35 people — including a toddler and several pregnant women — from an overcrowded fibreglass boat yesterday.
“The crew of Nadir provided first aid and accompanied the people on the move until the arrival of an Italian coastguard vessel,” ResQship said on social media, “which took them on board and brought them to a safe port.”
UPDATE: August 4, 2022
MSF announced this morning that the Italian authorities had finally granted the Geo Barents a port.
“After nearly 9 days spent at sea, our 659 survivors will be able to disembark in the port of Taranto, [southern Italy],” MSF said on social media.
“This prolonged period of blockage at sea is one of the longest ever experienced by our team. This must not happen again.”
Top image shows survivors on aboard the Geo Barents [Pic: MSF]