From file: Migrants on an overcrowded wooden boat in the Mediterranean Sea on January 10, 2020 | Photo: Picture-alliance/AP Photo/Santi Palacios
From file: Migrants on an overcrowded wooden boat in the Mediterranean Sea on January 10, 2020 | Photo: Picture-alliance/AP Photo/Santi Palacios

Sea-Watch has published a photo of the body of a dead migrant that reportedly has been floating in the Mediterranean for two weeks. The private rescue organization says that even though authorities in Libya, Malta and Italy had been informed, they did not retrieve the body.

The body, which was trapped to the remnants of a half-sunk rubber boat, was first discovered by the Sea-Watch aircraft Seabird on June 29, according to the organization. Although the aviation team contacted authorities to recover the body, it was spotted another three times drifting at sea over the following two weeks, said Sea-Watch head of aviation Neeske Beckmann in a video statement on Twitter.

The NGO published a photo of the dead body on its Sea-Watch Italy Twitter page on June 30, and Beckmann gave a video statement on July 14, posted on the group's English, German and Italian accounts.

In the tweet, Sea-Watch wrote: "Yesterday, on its first mission, Seabird sighted in the Libyan search-and-rescue zone what we never wanted to be forced to show you: the nameless body of a person on the remains of a semi-sunken dinghy of which we know nothing. We ask the authorities for clarification."

The circumstances of the incident remain unclear. "We do not know what happened there,” said Beckmann, "and especially what happened to the other people on the rubber boat." Besides requesting the retrieval of the body, Sea-Watch said it also asked the authorities to clarify what occurred on the rubber dinghy on June 29 . "Since then -- and it's been two weeks now -- nothing has happened!" said Beckmann on July 14.

'Last bit of dignity of EU has drowned with these people'

In her video statement, Beckmann says that people dying in the Mediterranean Sea is the result of Europe "buidling a fortress around itself." 

"When then the bodies are not retrieved and identified, and their relatives are not informed about their death so that they can mourn, which they have a right to, and when these dead are not laid to rest, that shows that the last bit of dignity that the EU had left has drowned with these people," Beckmann said.

The Sea-Watch team in its video called for "safe and legal routes so that tragedies like this one do not have to occur again."

The case was picked up by Italian media; the image was featured on the title page of the newspaper Repubblica on Thursday and was shown on national television.

Filippo Grandi, head of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), told Repubblica the picture showed that the debate about sea rescue was "immoral and disgusting," adding that rescuing migrants at sea was an "absolute duty." 

Deaths in the Mediterranean

After a sharp drop in migrants boarding boats to cross the Mediterranean from Libya due to the coronavirus pandemic, more people are again embarking on the often dangerous journey towards Europe, dpa reports. According to the IOM, 389 people died in the Mediterranean between January 1 and July 16 this year. 

In March of this year, the UN agency estimated that the death toll of migrants who had tried to cross the Mediterranean Sea had passed the "grim milestone" of 20,000 deaths since 2014.

Humanitarian organizations like the German-run Sea-Watch patrol the Mediterranean by ship or plane to rescue migrants in distress who are trying to reach the European Union. The NGOs repeatedly critizise the EU for what they deem a policy non-assistance and deterrance. 

In a recent list of demands to the German EU Council Presidency, Sea-Watch urged the EU to immediately stop its support and financing of Libya's coast guard. The "complicity of EU agencies in human rights violations would need to be prosecuted, and EU missions in the Mediterranean such as IRINI would need to be equipped with a mandate to rescue," the group wrote.

Also read: Mediterranean: 'With the Seabird and Moonbird humanitarian aircraft, we have spotted 20,000 migrants in distress at sea'

With dpa


More articles