The humanitarian vessel Ocean Viking pulled to safety 39 migrants from a rickety wooden boat in the early hours of Friday morning. Almost half of the migrants are unaccompanied minors, the crew said.
The Ocean Viking ship, jointly run by SOS Mediterranee and Médecins sans Frontières (MSF), in its first rescue mission in 2020 picked up 39 people traveling on a wooden boat which had begun taking in water around 35 nautical miles off the Libyan coast. The rescue took place in total darkness in the early hours of Friday and was further complicated by rough seas and strong winds, MSF wrote on Twitter.
Among the rescued migrants are 19 unaccompanied minors and five women. A spokesperson from SOS Mediterranee told InfoMigrants French that most of the migrants are of Bangladeshi origin.
Libyan authorities on Friday offered Tripoli as a point of disembarkation for the 39 migrants, but SOS Mediterranee announced it will wait for an alternative. "According to UNHCR and the IOM, Libya is not safe for refugees and migrants, especially in times of war", the organization said on Twitter.
For now, the Ocean Viking will continue to patrol waters off the Libyan coast for other boats in distress, SOS Mediterranee told InfoMigrants.
More migrant boats setting off from Libya
In the first two weeks of 2020, at least 953 migrants, including 85 children, trying to flee Libya by boat were intercepted and returned to Libyan shores, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said Tuesday.
NGO search and rescue boats reported having rescued 237 others, the IOM said.
The security situation is considered to be at its worst since the conflict between rival authorities began nine months ago. Migrants who spoke to IOM staff at disembarkation points in Libya said the worsening violence, in and around the capital, and the deteriorating humanitarian situation were the main reasons for the increase in the number of people fleeing.
MSF Germany released a statement to the German press agency dpa in which they warned the international community that the situation in Libya could trigger a new refugee wave from the country, as people try to flea war and insecurity. On twitter on the same day, they called the situation in Libya "catastrophic" and said that the policy of returning refugees to Libya must end.