Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 July 2019

Rescue boat stranded at sea as EU countries refuse to let it dock

Supplies of food and water on the 'Alan Kurdi' are running low

Rescued migrants rest on board the 'Alan Kurdi', operated by German NGO, Sea-Eye. Reuters
Rescued migrants rest on board the 'Alan Kurdi', operated by German NGO, Sea-Eye. Reuters

A rescue boat operated by a German NGO is running low on food and water as European countries debate who should take responsibility for the dozens of migrants on board.

The boat – named Alan Kurdi after the three-year old Syrian boy who drowned in the Mediterranean in 2015 – rescued 64 people from an inflatable dinghy off the coast of Libya last Wednesday. Among them are 20 women, five children and one newborn baby.

The ship remains at sea, south of the Italian island of Lampedusa, as both Malta and Italy refused to allow it entry. Italy’s Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, demanded Germany deal with what he called "the problem", because the vessel is sailing under a German flag.

"Italians are asking for bravery, and I am demonstrating that," Mr Salvini said in a tweet, a reference to his disputes with the EU over immigration.

Carlotta Weibl, a spokeswoman for the Sea-Eye NGO, said their work depends upon the negotiations between EU countries.

“Rescuing people from distress should be carried out independently from political agendas within single states,” she said.

“We are suffering in this position, where you risk being arrested if you follow the law and do what is right, while you are forced to prolong people's suffering by doing what states request.”

Ms Weibl said that “even humanitarian evacuation of particularly vulnerable people on board" the Alan Kurdi depends on countries agreeing a deal.

On April 5, the German foreign ministry, the European Commission and other EU countries negotiated with Italy about the evacuation of two families. Italian patrols were sent to the Alan Kurdi to pick up two mothers with their children, but the fathers were not allowed to disembark. Both families refused to be separated and the operation was cancelled.

Sea-Eye criticised the conditions the passengers and crew have to endure while they wait to disembark. Some are forced to sleep on the deck due to lack of space, where they are exposed to wind, the waves and the cold. The organisation said a storm heading towards the boat's location could endanger those on board.

“The psychological state of many people is also weak. We have a woman on board, who was sold, had to work in a brothel and was tortured when she refused. Eventually, she had to buy herself free,” Ms Weibl said.

"This woman needs immediate psychological support and should not be put under even more stress."

Sea-Eye is the only organisation that continues to conduct rescues in the Mediterranean. Doctors Without Borders were stopped from working there in February when the flag of the Aquarius migrant rescue ship was revoked after Italy put pressure on Gibraltar.

Operation Sophia, the EU’s maritime rescue mission, was also downgraded in March, in a move criticised by rights groups and charities.

Updated: April 10, 2019 03:16 PM

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