The Sea-Watch 3 on the Mediterranean | Photo: Picture-alliance/dpa/
The Sea-Watch 3 on the Mediterranean | Photo: Picture-alliance/dpa/

Two migrants have been evacuated from the German Sea-Watch 3 migrant rescue vessel overnight for medical reasons, leaving 40 passengers who were saved off Libya 16 days ago still blocked offshore by Italy's refusal to let them disembark. In a gesture of solidarity, five Italian left-wing MPs spent the night onboard the Sea-Watch 3.

A sick 19-year-old migrant and his young brother have been evacuated from a Sea-Watch rescue boat banned by Italy from docking on the island of Lampedusa, the German NGO said.

Another 40 migrants are still onboard, Sea-Watch said. "A medical evacuation just took place. One patient under serious pain and his brother were disembarked from #SeaWatch3," the NGO tweeted.

It quoted the ship's captain, Carola Rackete, as saying: "We cannot wait for every single person to become a medical emergency until Europe recognizes they have basic rights."

The stand-off between Sea-Watch 3 and the Italian authorities escalated on Wednesday when the vessel entered Italian waters despite a threat of hefty fines from far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini.

Rackete has said she is ready to go to prison to bring the migrants to safety. They have spent more than two weeks at sea. Salvini has said the migrants can only disembark if they head straight to the Netherlands, where the Sea-Watch 3 is registered, or to Germany.

Is relocation the solution?

On Thursday, EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said Brussels was "closely involved in coordinating with the member states to find a solution for relocating the migrants on board Sea-Watch 3 once they are disembarked."

According to Italian media reports, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte had a long chat with his Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Osaka in Japan on Friday.

Five Italian left-wing MPs spent the night onboard the ship in a gesture of solidarity. "We'll remain onboard until all of the migrants have disembarked," said Graziano Delrio, who was the minister in charge of the Italian coastguard between 2015 and 2018.

“On the Sea-Watch 3, there is the useless fury of Salvini that shows no mercy for the weakest,” Delrio said aboard the vessel. “It's intolerable that he ignores the laws and goes after those who need help the most. We'll stay on board until all the refugees are on the ground.” 

Salvini has called for the Sea-Watch 3 to be seized and its crew to be arrested for aiding and abetting illegal immigration.

Fewer crossings but higher risk of death

Despite Salvini's hard-line stance, migrants are continuing to arrive via the Central Mediterranean route, even if not in the same numbers as during the period between 2014 and 2017. Last year, 46,000 migrants attempted to cross from North Africa to Italy, down from 144,000 in 2017.

The risk of death on the route, however, increased last year. According to an IOM report released today, even the “most conservative estimates” suggest that 1 in 35 people attempting to cross perished in 2018, compared with 1 in 50 in 2017.

Over the past 16 days, nearly 500 migrants have landed on Italy's coast, according to the Italian interior ministry.

With material from AFP and AP


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