MSF calls on Italy to release the seized rescue vessel | Migration news



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The detention of the ship that saved hundreds of migrants and refugees in June is politically motivated, according to a medical association.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) medical charity urged Italian authorities to release one of its rescue ships, saying the detention was politically motivated.

MSF’s research vessel, the Geo Barents, was placed in administrative detention on July 2 following an inspection in the Sicilian port of Augusta which identified 22 “deficiencies”, the charity said on Sunday in a statement.

The Italian Coast Guard said 10 reported issues justified the vessel’s detention as they put the safety of the crew and passengers at risk.

The ship, they noted, only had life-saving equipment for 83 people.

Previously, the ship had rescued more than 400 people, including dozens of unaccompanied children, in fragile boats in back-to-back operations in June, an MSF spokesperson told Reuters.

Many came from countries in conflict, including Syria, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan and Mali.

MSF said it was ready to comply with authorities’ demands and make any “necessary adjustments”, but warned that inspections on its ship could “represent an opportunity for authorities to pursue political objectives under cover. administrative procedures “.

The charity described the Coast Guard’s security claims as a “misleading interpretation of maritime law”.

MSF said the Italian authorities had arrested NGO ships 13 times since 2019.

Four of them are currently detained, “leaving virtually no vital activity in the central Mediterranean,” MSF said.

UN report blames the EU

Thousands of migrants and refugees embark on the crossing every year, often leaving Libya in small inflatable boats in the hope of reaching Europe.

So far this year, 866 deaths have been recorded in the Mediterranean, according to the United Nations Migration Agency. Most of them, 723, died on the central Mediterranean route where the MSF ship was operating.

A UN report released in May said the European Union and its 27 member states were partly to blame for the deaths because they had played a role in blocking humanitarian rescue efforts.

While the EU has scaled back its own official search and rescue operations, governments have blocked aid agencies from rescuing people in distress by impounding their ships, which had patrolled for years in the central Mediterranean, and targeting people in distress. individuals with administrative and criminal prosecution, according to the report.

Italy’s coastguard said on Saturday that since the start of 2021, they had inspected 681 foreign-flagged vessels of different types that called at Italian ports, and 55 had been under administrative detention.

The Open Arms rescue vessel, run by a Spanish charity, was released late last month after more than two months of detention in Sicily.

“Inspections of NGO ships in Italian ports are long and thorough, aiming to find irregularities in order to prevent the ship from returning to sea to save lives,” said Duccio Staderini, an MSF search and rescue representative.

“We are faced with an overwhelming reality: while humanitarian NGO ships are detained, lives continue to be needlessly lost in the Mediterranean.

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