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Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Aquarius again launches an SOS to Europe with 141 shipwrecked

Por Jade

The Aquarius, the first ship that was left in limbo when Italy and Malta closed their ports to NGOs in early June, is again in a similar situation. This Sunday it asked the European governments to assign it "a safe harbor and as close as possible, as dictated by the law" to disembark 141 migrants it saved in international waters on Friday. Libya, which coordinated the rescues, informed the ship that "it cannot offer a safe place" and ordered it to contact other countries, according to the NGOs that operate it. The immigrants were rescued in two different operations. In the first, 26 people were saved, including 6 women, 26 miles off the Libyan coast.

They had been drifting in a small boat for 35 hours. A little later, the second rescue took place in international waters: 116 people crowded into a boat, including 67 children. The 141 people were traveling from Libya to Italy in two precarious wooden boats located adrift. A total of 67 of them declared to be minors who make the crossing without adult company. And another six children travel with at least one parent, according to the details offered by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and SOS Méditerranée, which operate the Aquarius. More than two thirds of migrants on board come from Eritrea, where many young men flee to avoid forced recruitment, and from Somalia, one of the most fragile states in the world.

The humanitarian boat, which states that it has kept the maritime coordination centers of Italy, Malta and Tunisia and the relevant Libyan authorities informed since they arrived in the rescue and tracking area in front of Libya, contacted Rome and Valletta to ask them for a safe harbor. The Maltese responded with a refusal, the Italians with silence. The crew maintains a detailed public logbook with its procedures. The Aquarius is now the only boat of an NGO in the area where the boats leaving Libya for Europe are concentrated. A few days ago it took over from the Open Arms, which in July and August has made three rescues that have culminated in Spain.

The government of Pedro Sanchez is the only European who has accepted without interference migrants saved on the high seas since the Italian Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, vetoed the boats of NGOs in their ports in an attempt to force their EU partners to accept a distribution of the rescued. It opened its doors even though the constant arrival of precarious boats to the Spanish coasts has placed it as the great gateway by sea to the EU. The rescued migrants have assured that, "before being rescued by the Aquarius, they crossed paths with five boats that did not offer them help," according to the boat's humanitarian report. They add that "it seems that the principle of helping those who are in danger at sea is at stake," they add.

Precisely so that no captain who runs into a boat has the slightest doubt or temptation, the UN and various NGOs (including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International) agree to demand more means of rescue from Libya, in addition to "a clear system and predictable landing." The Commissioner of Immigration, the Greek Dimitris Avramopoulos, ensures that the European Commission is working "to expand cooperation in the tasks of tracking and rescue" and also collaborates with "Member States, the IOM (International Organization for Migration) and UNHCR to develop a safe and predictable landing system, and improve collaboration between both shores of the Mediterranean."

Sanchez and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have met this weekend in Doñana to forge a political front with France and Portugal to raise a less unequal distribution of immigrants and refugees. Spain has received the 630 rescued by the Aquarius and those rescued by the Open Arms (first 60, then the shipwrecked Cameroonian Josefa, located next to the corpses of a woman and a child, and 87 that arrived on Thursday). The difficulties for NGOs multiply even in Spain.

The previous disembarkations were in closer ports, in Barcelona, ​​Mallorca and Valencia, and this time the Open Arms has been retained in the Andalusian port of Algeciras after the maritime captaincy ordered him to return on Friday without giving a reason, an hour after Set sail for Barcelona, ​​explains a spokesperson for the NGO. The rest of the boats are confiscated precautionary or do not have permission to set sail. The Aquarius complains that in recent days the Libyans, whose rescue coordination center is on an Italian ship docked in Tripoli, had ignored their presence these days. That center "did not inform the Aquarius of ships in distress of which they had news, despite the fact that we were in the area and had offered our help," said Aloys Vimard, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) coordinator on board.