Doctors Without Borders has called for a European state search and rescue system in the Mediterranean, and for improving the distribution of migrants in the European Union. The owner of migrant rescue ship Geo Barents also said that NGOs are not responsible for the large number of arrivals in countries like Italy.
Doctors Without borders (MSF) called "the urgent creation of an official search and rescue system in the Mediterranean, coordinated at European level, which should include competent coordination and reactive authorities who are capable of assigning a safe port for docking" in a statement published on their Italian homepage on Tuesday (November 8).
This followed a long stand-off between the Geo Barents -- a migrant rescue ship operated by MSF -- and Italian authorities. On Tuesday, the migrants and refugees were allowed to disembark in Catania, Italy, after a long wait. However, the Ocean Viking, another NGO rescue ship, had to travel to France to disembark its rescued passengers.
Only 14% of migrants arriving in Italy on NGO ships
In their statement, MSF called for "an end to all punitive actions against NGOs that are trying to save lives (and) a shelter mechanism that is shared at European level."
MSF claimed that NGOs only played a small role in bringing migrants to Italy. They said that of the 95,000 migrants and refugees who arrived in Italy in the last months, only 14% were "related to the NGO activity of search and rescue" -- citing Ispi, a leading Italian Think Tank.
"This means that nearly nine migrants in ten reach the Italian coastline without the help of NGO ships and that, therefore, even without NGOs these people would have reached Italy regardless," argued MSF.
MSF calls for better distribution across EU
They also said that NGOs were not "the ones who decide where to dock, but rather it is the task of the competent authorities."
MSF added that "Libya is not a safe port," citing UNHCR guidelines. UN experts and human rights organizations have repeatedly said that migrants and refugees should not be returned to Libya, given that they face arbitrary detention, violence and blackmail.
MSF said that it is the responsibility of the EU to find a system in which southern border countries receive more support.
"If European border countries, such as Italy, Greece and Spain, continue to manage the majority of migrant arrivals and asylum seekers it is because the European asylum system is inefficient. It is the responsibility of European governments to reach an agreement on a relocation system for asylum seekers. A system that is more just and functional," said MSF.
"Today, those migrants who are returned to the infernos of Libyan detention centers are far more than those who reach Italy," comments the NGO, listing Turkey, Pakistan, Uganda and Lebanon as the countries hosting the highest number of refugees in the world, both in total and per capita. "It is neither Italy nor other European countries."