Amsterdam - Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is relieved that the 82 survivors rescued by the Ocean Viking, a search and rescue vessel jointly operated with SOS MEDITERRANEE, have been assigned a place of safety in Lampedusa, Italy. This comes after a coalition of European states has stepped up with another ad hoc solution to enable the disembarkation and relocation of rescued people.
The Italian authorities’ offer of a place of safety within six days of the first rescue at sea is a clear demonstration of humanitarian values, and represents a positive step towards a more humane response to the suffering that continues on the Central Mediterranean.
“For people who have fled from desperate circumstances in their home countries and suffered horrific abuses in Libya, safety cannot come soon enough,” says Erkinalp Kesikli, MSF project coordinator on board Ocean Viking.
“Children on board tell our medical team that, in Libya, their skin was burned with melted plastic, they were beaten with sticks and bitten by dogs. We hear horrific stories of sexual abuse against men, women and children. Exploitation and arbitrary detention have left many with deep psychological wounds. We are relieved that they will no longer be waiting in limbo at sea, thanks to the solidarity demonstrated by European states.”
While the Ocean Viking was waiting to be assigned a place of safety, earlier this week, a heavily pregnant woman and her husband were evacuated by helicopter when her medical condition deteriorated. Rescued people must not be forced to endure long delays while European governments perform needless political pantomimes with each rescue. A predictable mechanism for the disembarkation of people rescued in the Central Mediterranean is urgently needed.
MSF is calling on European states to:
- Put in place a sustainable and predictable disembarkation system that ensures survivors' well-being and safeguards their rights.
- End their political and material support to the system of forced returns to Libya, where refugees and migrants are placed in arbitrary and inhumane detention. People fleeing Libya simply cannot be returned there.
- Respond to the urgent need for proactive and sufficient European search and rescue capacity. So far in 2019, one in 20 people fleeing Libya by sea are believed to have died attempting the crossing.
The Ocean Viking rescued 84 people in two distinct rescue operations.
Within less than nine hours of entering the Libyan Search and Rescue Region, the Ocean Viking commenced the first rescue on 8 September.
The second rescue and transfer on 9 September was carried out in rapidly deteriorating weather conditions after the situation for those on board the Josefa - a 14-metre sail boat - became an emergency.
Despite consistently attempting to contact the Libyan JRCC before and after each rescue, we did not receive instructions until 10 September, offering us to go to Zawiyah (Libya) for the disembarkation of survivors, contrary to international law. The Ocean Viking requested an alternative, to no avail.
On 11 September, the Ocean Viking headed north for the medical evacuation to Malta of a nine-month pregnant woman and her husband.
Following the medical evacuation, 82 rescued people remained on board: 75 men – 20 of whom are unaccompanied minors (aged under 18 years old, with no parent or guardian accompanying them), six women (including one pregnant woman), and a one-year-old infant.
After renewed requests to the Maltese and Italian MRCC, on Saturday 14 September, the Ocean Viking has been informed via an email from the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) Rome that Lampedusa was assigned as a Place of Safety.