NGO asks France, Spain and Greece for help in migrant standoff

NGO asks France, Spain and Greece for help in migrant standoff


NGO asks France, Spain and Greece for help in migrant standoff

Marseilles (AFP) –

Julie Pacorel with Gael Branchereau in Rome

Migrant rescue group SOS Mediterranee said Thursday it had urged the governments of France, Greece and Spain to help find a port for 234 people rescued trying to reach Europe after Italy and Malta failed to respond had.

The NGO, whose ship Ocean Viking responds to migrants in distress in the Mediterranean, said it was the first time it had asked for direct help from the three countries.

“We are not asking France to open a port, but to help us find a solution,” SOS-Med director Sophie Beau told AFP, saying the ship is currently south of Sicily.

Since the start of its last mission on October 22, the group has asked Malta and Libya, the country from which most migrants hoping to reach Europe from Africa depart, to let them into the port as they are the closest countries to the rescue sites were.

Beau said none responded even as weather conditions worsened, with strong winds, heavy waves and lower temperatures forecast for the coming days.

The ship then asked for help from Italy, whose new Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has vowed to stop migrants from reaching Europe from Africa.

There was no official response as of Thursday, but the group said it faces “a total high-seas blockade and an implied ban on entry” into Italian ports.

A ship belonging to the non-governmental organization SOS Humanity is also stranded with hundreds of migrants on board, SOS Med said.

– “Risk of death” –

“This is the first time we have appealed to France, Greece and Spain” for help finding a port for rescued migrants, Beau said, adding that no country has responded so far.

Germany sent a diplomatic “note” to Italy in which Berlin said the charities made “an important contribution to saving lives in the Mediterranean Sea,” according to a statement shared by that embassy in Rome with AFP.

“Rescuing people in danger of death is a priority. We ask the Italian government to help them as soon as possible,” she added.

The new Italian government, which has been struggling with promises to “stop arrivals,” says the charity ships fly the flags of certain countries, which are consequently obliged to take in some of those rescued.

“If you bring migrants to Italy from the African coast, you are openly violating the law of the sea and international law,” Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni claimed in a recent interview.

“If an NGO ship – let’s say – sails a German flag: either Germany takes responsibility or it becomes a pirate ship,” she said.

Since the beginning of this year, 1,765 migrants have died or disappeared trying to cross the central Mediterranean from Africa on the world’s most dangerous migration route.

According to Italy’s Interior Ministry, 85,991 people have arrived by sea so far this year, but only 112 of them have been taken in by other countries – namely France and Germany.

Migrants rescued by charity ships account for just 14 percent of arrivals over the past 12 months, according to Matteo Villa of the Institute for International Political Studies.

More to explorer