Migrants from the Maridive disembark in the port of Zarzis to be transferred to a reception centre | Credit: Forum Tunisien pour les Droits Economiques et Sociaux
Migrants from the Maridive disembark in the port of Zarzis to be transferred to a reception centre | Credit: Forum Tunisien pour les Droits Economiques et Sociaux

75 migrants who were allowed to disembark in Tunisia after nearly three weeks on board the commercial ship Maridive 601 are being helped to return to their countries of origin. The migrants from Bangladesh, Egypt, Morocco and Sudan were rescued on May 31 off the coast of Libya but were only permitted to land in Tunisia on Tuesday.

The migrants (64 Bangladeshis, nine Egyptians, one Moroccan and one Sudanese) had been on board the commercial ship Maridive 601, which rescued them on May 31 off the coast of Libya and was subsequently blocked for nearly three weeks off the coast of Tunisia awaiting authorization to disembark. On Tuesday evening, the ship docked at the port of Zarzis. The Tunisian Red Crescent said authorization to dock was subject to the migrants' acceptance of voluntary repatriation.

Red Crescent personnel met the migrants as they disembarked, along with various humanitarian organizations. The migrants were transferred to a regional reception center and then to Tunis, where local sources said they could start departing for their countries of origin as soon as Thursday.

Assistance with repatriation

Loredana Lando, mission head for the UN migration agency (IOM) in Tunisia, told ANSA that IOM was ready to provide humanitarian and medical aid to all of the migrants who disembarked from the Maridive, as well as assistance to those who wish to return to their countries of origin. "Those who want to return will be assisted in voluntary repatriation with a reintegration program in their country of origin," Lando said. “Everyone is free to make their own choice," she said.

A check with the diplomatic authorities of Bangladesh showed that there were just three unaccompanied migrants aboard the ship, not the 32 originally reported by the ship's captain. Chiranjib Sarker, consular director-general at the Bangladeshi Foreign Ministry, told the Bangladeshi English-language newspaper The Daily Star that the Bangladeshis aboard the Maridive had all accepted voluntary repatriation.

Similar case on the Sarost 5 in 2018

In summer 2018, a commercial ship, the Sarost 5, rescued 40 migrants in a Mediterranean shipwreck and had to wait 17 days for authorization to disembark at the port of Zarzis. The authorization was granted as an exception for "humanitarian reasons". Tunisia has always opposed the European Union proposal to create regional disembarkation platforms outside European territory in collaboration with UNHCR and IOM. "Tunisia doesn't have a functioning asylum system and cannot be defined a safe place for migrants and refugees," said the NGO Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on Twitter, commenting on the case of the Maridive 601.

The situation of migrant reception centers in the Medenine Governorate, at the border with Libya, is on the verge of collapse. Mustapha Abdelkebir, president of the Tunisian Observatory for Human Rights, said, "Accommodating these migrants or other people who disembark or arrive in Tunisia following an attempt at irregular migration from Libya to Europe is very difficult, above all in the Medenine Governorate, which has hosted thousands of migrants and refugees since 2011."

 

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