Migrants rescued by Proactiva Open Arms on board the Open Arms | Photo: Picture-alliance/dpa
Migrants rescued by Proactiva Open Arms on board the Open Arms | Photo: Picture-alliance/dpa

Three migrants have been evacuated from the rescue vessel Open Arms for medical reasons. More than 150 others remain on board after being rescued 11 days ago by the Spanish charity Proactiva Open Arms. Another rescue vessel, the Ocean Viking, is also stranded in the Mediterranean after picking up 251 migrants. Italy and Malta continue to deny entry into their ports.

Both the Open Arms and the Ocean Viking migrant rescue vessels are waiting for a safe harbor for the more than 400 migrants they have on board.

Three migrants on board the Open Arms were evacuated Monday for medical reasons and taken to Italy and Malta, Proactiva Open Arms wrote on Twitter. The day before, Open Arms had said three ailing passengers "require specialized medical attention,” one with tuberculosis, one with pneumonia and a third with cancer. The Open Arms now has 151 migrants on board.

"We are waiting for confirmation from Italian authorities [since Italy has] the nearest safe port," the NGO said.

On August 2, the Open Arms had rescued 123 migrants in the central Mediterranean Sea. The Italian coast guard evacuated two pregnant women a day later, but the other passengers have remained at sea.

On Saturday, the ship's crew picked up another 39 migrants. The government of Malta said it would take them because the rescue happened in its search and rescue (SAR) area. However, the EU member state rejected the other 121 migrants, who had been picked up over a week ago, "in an area where Malta is neither responsible nor the competent coordinating authority."

Arguing a safe port needed to be found for all the rescued passengers, Open Arms founder Oscar Camps declined the offer. "We cannot evacuate 39 people and tell the rest that they have to stay," he said.

During a press conference on the Italian island Lampedusa organized by Proactiva Open Arms, US actor Richard Gere criticized Italy’s tough stance on migrants.

“I love the Italians a lot, your generosity and your zest for life. And yet I noticed that something has changed,” said Gere, who had helped bring water and food aboard the Open Arms beforehand.

"The most important thing for these people here is to be able to get to a free port, to be able to get off the boat, to start a new life for themselves," the 69-year-old said.

Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini quickly commented on the prominent passenger, saying he hopes Gere "gets a bit of a suntan" and that he should take the migrants to Ibiza, a Spanish resort island. 

Last week, the new President of the European Parliament, the Italian David Sassoli, urged European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker on Twitter to ensure “urgent assistance and fair distribution of Open Arms rescue boat migrants.” 

NGOs face higher fines

Meanwhile, rescue boat Ocean Viking, jointly run by charities SOS Mediterranee and Doctors without Borders (MSF) and operating in the same area off the Libyan coast, rescued another 81 migrants off the coast of Libya on Sunday, according to MSF. According to news agency AFP, there are now 251 people aboard the vessel.

The young men, mostly Sudanese, who had left Libya late Saturday in a blue rubber dinghy, clapped and cheered as the ship came into view.

"We're the only ones in the area, the Libyan coastguard don't respond" to distressed migrant vessels, SOS Mediterranee search and rescue (SAR) coordinator Nicholas Romaniuk told an AFP reporter.

Determined to keep aid groups' boats from taking migrants to ports in Italy, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has banned Ocean Viking and the Open Arms from the country and its territorial waters.

Under a new amendment to the second security and immigration decree in Italy known as Salvini decree, NGO skippers will be arrested if they fail to obey the orders of police or navy ships. In addition, NGO-run migrant rescue ships will be fined up to one million euros for defying a ban on entering Italian waters.

With material from AFP, AP


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