On Sunday night, NGO ships assisted a vessel containing 400 migrants in the central Mediterranean, between Libya, Tunisia, Italy, and Malta. This was announced by the French organization SOS Méditerranée. The French humanitarian organization rescued another 200 people on Saturday and now has 450 migrants on board, the AFP agency said.
“The rescue operation in international waters was very dangerous – a large vessel built of wood with more than 400 people on board began to take on water,” said the French organization. The Sea Watch 3 and Nadir ships of the German organizations Sea Watch and ResQship also took part in the rescue operation. In the last 48 hours, ships have rescued about 600 migrants, providing them basic assistance.
Number of migrants is growing
According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), around 45,000 people have arrived from Africa to Europe so far this year via the Mediterranean. This is significantly more than during the same period last year. More than half of this number is on the route from Libya and Tunisia to Italy and Malta. However, as the number of attempts to enter the European Union grows, so does the number of deaths at sea. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that more than 1,100 migrants died in the Mediterranean in the first half of this year, which is also more than last year.
The rise in numbers was made possible by better weather and more favorable development of the COVID-19 epidemic. The Italian authorities fear that the number of migrants will increase even more due to political uncertainty in Tunisia. Rome recently agreed with Tunis on better border controls.
SOS Méditerranée claims that its ships have rescued 32,000 migrants since 2016. However, Italy is trying to limit the activity of non-governmental organizations. Its authorities often confiscate the ship after landing and subject it to a long inspection. Authorities say ships are often not adapted to transport large numbers of people, but organizations see this as a way for Rome to restrict their activities at sea. In addition, the organizations criticize European countries for supporting the Libyan Coast Guard, which is trying to prevent refugees from traveling to Europe.
Title image: Migrants lift up Basile Fischer, SOS Mediterranee’s deputy search and rescue coordinator, during a celebration aboard the Ocean Viking in the Mediterranean Sea, Monday, Sept. 23, 2019. Italy has granted the humanitarian ship permission to sail to the port of Messina in Italy to disembark 182 migrants rescued north of Libya. (AP Photo/Renata Brito)