Human rights lobbying groups are calling on EU capitals to find a European port for the Franco-German charity ship ‘Aquarius’ where it could dock and let more than 140 rescued in the Mediterranean disembark. ‘Aquarius’ is a former German coast-guard and fishery protection vessel operated since February 2016 by SOS Méditerranée and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) as a rescue vessel. The vessels saved 141 people in two separate operations off the Libyan coast last week but when it started heading for Europe, Libyan coastguards called it back to pick 10 migrants spotted aboard. As the operation was underway, SOS Mediterranee and MSF inquired where to bring those who were saved.
“What is of utmost importance is that the survivors are brought to a place of safety without delay, where their basic needs can be met and where they can be protected from abuse,” said Nick Romaniuk, search and rescue coordinator for SOS Mediterranee. Until very recently, the Aquarius was operating seamlessly in the central Mediterranean, bringing the rescued migrants to Italy since early 2016. However, since populists formed government in June, they immediately closed all ports to all NGO boats.
The Italian government has already banned the entry to the migrants currently onboard the vessel while Malta said it had no legal obligation to let the ship dock. More than 650,000 migrants have come to Italy’s shores since 2014, making Rome put pressure on the EU to share the burden of caring for those who arrive at the EU’s southern border. “It can go where it wants, not in Italy!” far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini concluded, while mentioning France, Germany, Britain or Malta as possible destinations for the ship. “Stop human traffickers and their accomplices,” he wrote.