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US News Off Libya, migrants more than ever on hold

06:25  10 april  2020
06:25  10 april  2020 Source:   rfi.fr

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The body of a migrant who died in a shipwreck off the coast of Libya on Thursday.Credit Ismail Zitouny/Reuters.

'Thousands of migrants have been rescued off the Libyan coast this weekend and I am proud to say that vessels and aircraft funded by Frontex helped save more than half of them,' said Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri. The fifty casualties died while making the dangerous Mediterranean crossing

Des sauveteurs de l'ONG Sea-Eye viennent au secours de migrants en détresse sur la mer méditerranée le 6 avril 2020. © CEDRIC FETTOUCHE / SEA-EYE.ORG / AFP Rescuers from the NGO Sea-Eye come to the aid of migrants in distress on the Mediterranean Sea on April 6 2020.

The world health situation further exacerbates the difficulties faced by NGOs for rescue at sea. On Wednesday Italy refused to allow foreign-flagged ships to dock and the International Organization for Migration reports that even Libya is now refusing to let the migrants intercepted by his coast guard disembark.

"Due to the intensification of the bombing, some of which targeted the port of Tripoli, Libya can no longer be considered a safe port". This seemingly ironic statement comes from the Libyan authorities and is reported by IOM. In fact, the International Organization for Migration has found that around 280 migrants intercepted by the Libyan coast guard are kept on an overloaded boat in the port of Tripoli without being able to get ashore. Among them are women and children. IOM, which explains that they spent 72 hours at sea before being rescued, provides them with food and water. "A tragic situation" sums up Federico Soda, the head of mission of the UN organization.

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About 200 people fell from overcrowded boat that was carrying 500-700 people and rescue boats are looking for survivors.

Migrants trying to make it across the Mediterranean on a rubber dinghy were rescued on Thursday by an aid group based in Malta and the Italian Red Cross.Credit Francesco Malavolta/MOAS, via Associated Press.

Further at sea, aboard the humanitarian ship Alan Kurdi flying the German flag, 150 migrants are also waiting to reach the mainland. They were rescued last Monday by the NGO Sea Eye. That morning, the day after arriving in the rescue zone, the team carried out two successive operations. The first near a small wooden boat almost turned into a drama. According to the NGO, Libyan coast guards who arrived at the scene fired shots in the air. In a panic, part of the migrants jumped into the water. But the 66 passengers were finally brought safely on board the Alan Kurdi, the NGO posted photos of the operation on its site.

While this first rescue was still underway, the master of the Alan Kurdi received a report from another boat in distress. This time, 82 people including a pregnant woman and several children will be rescued when at first, a supply vessel refused to help them. Reason invoked, the tanker assigned to an oil platform had to remain available if necessary.

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"The epidemic does not prevent people from drowning"

Wednesday the Alan Kurdi was halfway between Libya and Italy, near Malta. But neither of these two countries is ready to welcome it. The decree banning the entry of ships into Italian ports was signed on Tuesday, the Ministry of Transport said, adding that "it is based on the principles of protecting the health of passengers."

Contacted by RFI, the crew reported that none of the passengers had any symptoms of coronavirus infection. But migrants have neither the space nor the masks necessary to avoid contagion. Caterina, one of the two doctors on board, said that she and her colleague took turns constantly to answer their state of health to the European authorities. "I also hope that the sea will remain calm," added the doctor, "because I don't dare imagine the situation in heavy weather with 150 passengers on board." A crew member explains that he has never seen this. “During my last mission we had 32 migrants on board. Yesterday I realized that the ship was unstable because there were too many passengers on one side ... ". With two toilets and a shower for all the migrants, every day spent at sea adds to the health danger.

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Italy's coast guard said on Tuesday it had coordinated the rescue of 1,271 migrants from rubber and wooden boats in several operations off the coast of Libya . Italy was long at the frontier of seaborne migration from North Africa, but most of the hundreds of thousands of people arriving in Europe.

More than 61,000 migrants have arrived in Italy after crossing the central Mediterranean, according to the IOM. Most are packed onto ill-equipped vessels by Libyan smugglers, and are rescued by European ships once they reach international waters. Officials advised one million more African

Wait and negotiate

The closure of Italian ports is not, however, a surprise for Sea Eye. As of last week, the NGO reports, Rome and Valletta had written to the German Foreign Ministry that due to the sanitary situation, they would not allow any foreign-flagged humanitarian ship to dock. "We will, as usual, wait and negotiate," said Simon Pompé, one of Sea Eye spokespeople.

“The coronavirus epidemic does not prevent people from drowning and these people are no less entitled to help because there is an epidemic. The law of the sea requires rescuing boats in distress, that people may be sick should not be taken into account. Sea Eye calls on everyone to assume their responsibilities ”, explained Simon Pompé on RFI. The expression "assuming responsibility" does not have the same meaning for everyone. Germany called on the NGO to cease operations and turn back.

According to the IOM, more than 500 migrants have left Libya for Europe this week: 150 are on board the Alan Kurdi, 280 on board that of the Libyan coast guard, and 67 have arrived alone until l Italian island of Lampedusa.

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