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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 April 2019

Mental health fears for migrants stranded off Malta

Italy and Malta have refused to allow the 49 migrants to disembark for 18 days

A photo made available by Sea-Watch shows rescued refugees on board the private rescue ship Sea-Watch 3 persevering heavy seas. EPA.
A photo made available by Sea-Watch shows rescued refugees on board the private rescue ship Sea-Watch 3 persevering heavy seas. EPA.

Migrants stranded off the Maltese coast for 18 days have ended a short-lived hunger strike but concerns remain over their psychological state.

Italy and Malta have refused to allow the NGO boats that rescued the 49 migrants to dock who were plucked from the icy Mediterranean on December 22 as they attempted to get into Europe from Libya.

One of the NGO’s running the boats, the Sea Eye, said they were becoming fearful they could run out of food and water. Supplies were being readied for Tuesday but pending approval from the Maltese port authority. In a statement Sea Eye said the delivery was urgent amid concerns potentually bad weather could cause problems on Wednesday.

The other NGO, Sea Watch, said the migrants, stuffed into a tiny room, were vomiting on each other amid turbulent conditions.

"Regarding food, we can still use staple foods. We have no vitamins left, but enough carbohydrates, such as potatoes, rice or couscous. We can manage for a few more days. We cook for all 18 crew members and the 17 rescued, and we share everything,” Jan Ribbeck, head of operations on Sea Eye, told Zeit Online

Mr Ribbeck, a doctor, said the migrants were suffering from mental health problems because there was not a psychologist on board. Some would stop and state into the water, not talk or cry because of their experiences in Libya he added.

“These people need security and long professional help to recover from the traumatic experiences.”

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Italy and Malta have underlined their refusal to accept boats operated by the Sea Watch and Sea Eye despite the Pope on Sunday urging European leaders to show “solidarity” with the adrift migrants. Of the 49 migrants on board, there are a number of unaccompanied children and a baby.

The incident has also exposed a rift in Italy’s coalition government. Hard-line interior minister Matteo Salvini of the League party has insisted the migrants would not be welcome while leader of the five-star movement Luigi Di Maio has suggested the woman and children could be taken in.

Updated: January 8, 2019 06:07 PM

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