Rabat – The migrant rescue ship Aquarius has saved 141 migrants from drowning in the Mediterranean. It is now looking for “a safe place” to dock.
“Aquaris is presently positioned between Malta and the Italian island of Lampedusa,” Sophie Beau, president of SOS Mediterranee, a Franco-German humanitarian organization, told AFP yesterday. Beau added: “We are calling on European governments to find a solution. We are urging them to provide us with a safe place to dock.”
Beau underscored the desperation and anguish of the 141 migrants when Aquarius’s rescue crew saved them off European and Libyan coasts las week. She said that the humanitarian vessel has been making surveying trips throughout the Mediterranean since reports emerged of the increasing death toll in the perilous Mediterranean route used by migrants to reach Europe.
Of the 141 immigrants on board the Aquarius, 25 were rescued in the early hours of August 10 as their wooden—and unfit for purpose—boat was about to sink. The remaining 116 were rescued in the afternoon of the same day in similar conditions, Beau explained.
There were 67 unaccompanied minors in the second group the ship saved on August 10. According to Beau, most of the rescued migrants are from Eritrea and Somalia and were fleeing social unrest and conflict.
Migrants were packed in overloaded boats and were “malnourished” and “extremely weak,” according to the president of SOS Mediteranee.
Anti-migrant sentiment and policies
“Some of the rescued migrants told our teams that they encountered 5 different ships which did not offer them assistance before they were rescued by Aquarius,” Beau said, adding that Aquarius is urgently looking for a safe haven.
And while Libya is not “a safe place” to dock already “desperate” and “abused” migrants, many of whom have reported fleeing horrendous conditions in Libya, Aquarius has received “negative replies” from Malta and Italy.
“No Gibraltar-flagged German vessel carrying migrants will ever dock at an Italian port,” Matteo Salvini, Italy’s rightist interior minister, is reported to have told the vessel on August 11 when they asked Italian authorities for help.
Who will provide this time?
Amid the continual and now mounting intra-European spat about receiving rescued migrants, Italy has asked Britain to provide a safe haven for the 141 migrants on board Aquarius, pointing out that Gibraltar is a British territory and that Britain has done little on the subject of migration.
“The boat is now in Maltese waters and has a Gibraltar flag. At this point, the United Kingdom should take responsibility for the safeguarding of the shipwreck,” Italian transport minister Danilo Tonineli tweeted yesterday.
But the British government has not yet replied, remaining silent about whether it will take in the rescued migrants.
Aquarius is not in its first argument with EU authorities, especially the Italian and Maltese governments. In early June, the vessel, which had on board over 600 rescued migrants, spent weeks on the Mediterranean looking for a harbor, having been rejected by the two EU countries.
Spain finally stepped in, offering the port of Valencia in eastern Spain and promising to treat the migrants “totally normally” in accordance with EU migration law. This time, however, a similar Spanish move is highly unlikely.
Last week, the country’s Ministry of Interior revealed that so far this year more than 23,000 irregular migrants have reached Spain.
All Spanish reception centers are reportedly overcrowded as overwhelmed health and migration officials struggle to take care of migrants who have reached the country in grave health conditions.
Even if Spain wanted to reach out to more refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants in dire conditions, the interior ministry’s report suggested the country was too overwhelmed to do so.
The news of the vessel being stranded at sea comes at a particularly emotionally charged moment in European politics, especially after human rights advocacy groups and international organizations slammed EU countries for their “reprehensible” and “deadly” policies on migration.
A UNHCR report noted earlier this month that 1,500 migrants have died at sea this year, while Amnesty International also reported that migrants’ lives at sea and in transition countries—especially in detention centers in Libya—are “deeply concerning” and “horrific” and that Europe is “complicit” in their plight.
The report said that migration was a humanitarian crisis and that the EU’s policies are causing the escalation of migration-related deaths.