A total of 118 migrants are currently on board the humanitarian ship “Ocean Viking”, the French non-governmental organization SOS Méditerranée, after two rescue operations carried out in the last 24 hours in the Mediterranean, it was announced on Friday.
The rescues were carried out on the central Mediterranean migration route, which leaves Algeria, Tunisia and Libya towards Italy and Malta.
The first rescue involved a group of 51 people, including a pregnant woman and a large majority of pakistani citizens, who were aboard a wooden vessel that was in difficulty off the Italian island of Lampedusa, the French NGO reported via social media.
In the second operation, the “Ocean Viking” rescued 67 other migrants, who were trying to cross the Mediterranean in a precarious vessel, which had already been located a few hours earlier by the humanitarian reconnaissance plane “Moonbird”, which is linked to the German NGO Sea-Watch.
Migrants rescued in the first operation had already requested assistance through Alarm Phone, an organization that receives emergency calls made by vessels that are in danger.
All migrants aboard the “Ocean Viking”, which began patrolling this area of the Mediterranean in recent days, have undergone medical examinations and their health “is being continuously monitored” by the medical team of the humanitarian ship, according to SOS Mediterranée on the social network Twitter.
On the same social network, the organization’s operations coordinator, Nicholas Romaniuk, warned of the “real urgency” that is being experienced in the Mediterranean, despite the pandemic of the new coronavirus.
“Shipwrecks and loss of life continue to occur,” said the representative of the organization, which is now awaiting indication of a safe haven to make the migrants disembark.
Despite the threat of the pandemic of covid-19 disease, the migration flow on the various Mediterranean routes never stopped and with the arrival of summer, and consequently better navigability conditions, it is expected that attempts to reach Europe will increase in the coming weeks.
Due in part to the constraints caused by the pandemic of the new coronavirus, the ships of the various NGOs involved in humanitarian rescues in the Mediterranean were stopped and many European ports, as was the case in Italy and Malta, were closed.
But this has not prevented several vessels with migrants on board from continuing to leave Libya privately and to reach, for example, Italian shores autonomously.
“In the Mediterranean, we can die once. In Libya, we die every day,” said one of the rescued Pakistani migrants, speaking to a journalist from France-Presse (AFP) who is aboard the “Ocean Viking.”
Arslan Ahmid, 24, has been in Libya – a country that is not considered a safe haven and has been fertile ground for illegal migrant trafficking networks and kidnapping, torture and rape – for about eight months until deciding to leave Zouara (the port city of northwestern Libya) and risk his life crossing the Mediterranean to try to reach Europe.
Imran, 30, also from Pakistan, was in Libyan territory for a year.
All the Pakistanis here (on the ship) were made captive while they were in Libya, we were all kidnapped, we had come to work, but we found war, torture and extortion. To them, we are not human beings,” Imran said.
It was announced on Friday, however, that the humanitarian ship “Alan Kurdi”, of the German NGO Sea Eye, may return to rescue operations. This ship had been blocked by the Italian authorities in the port of Palermo (Sicily) since May 5.
In a statement, the NGO announced that the ship is heading for the coasts of Spain, after reaching an agreement with the Italian coastguard on June 10 that allowed it to leave the Italian port.
“We are grateful to the Spanish and German authorities for helping to free us from this devastating control,” said the organization’s head, Gorden Isler.
According to the NGO, both Spain and Germany have allowed the ship “Alan Kurdi” to move towards the Spanish coasts, located on the migratory route of the Western Mediterranean (from Morocco to Spain).
The Italian authorities justified the blockade of the ship because of “significant safety deficiencies”, a decision which was considered illegal by Sea Eye, based on an opinion of an expert in maritime law.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) reported in mid-April that 16,724 migrants and asylum seekers had entered Europe by sea (almost half off Greece’s coasts) since the beginning of 2020, an increase of 16% compared to 14,381 in the same period last year.
By mid-April this year, 256 people will have died crossing the Mediterranean migration route, down from the 425 fatalities recorded in the same period in 2019, according to the same figures.
More than 20,000 people have died while crossing the Mediterranean migration route since 2014 are estimated to have died.