More than 200 migrants picked up by the Open Arms rescue ship have landed safety in Sicily. The NGO said the Central Mediterranean has become a "no man's land" and a "tomb" for European values.
The Open Arms humanitarian rescue vessel brought 209 migrants to Sicily on Thursday, five days after it had picked up the first of three groups of migrants from the Maltese Search and Rescue zone in the Central Mediterranean.
The migrants were disembarked in the port of Pozzallo near the city of Ragusa. “We hope they can finally live in peace and have the freedom to build their future,” the organization tweeted.
By Thursday evening all were safely ashore and had tested negative for COVID-19, it said.
In three operations since March 27, the Open Arms vessel rescued 219 people (151 men, 12 women, and 56 minors, including 17 under the age of 10). The organization said that Italian authorities carried out two urgent evacuations: the first of a pregnant woman and her brother, the second of a 7-year-old girl, together with her parents and five brothers. The girl had lost consciousness probably due to epileptic seizures, Open Arms reported in a press statement.
'Boats disappeared into thin air'
Open Arms said that during its now completed 'Mission 82', it had received reports of distress calls via the Mediterranean hotline Alarm Phone or civilian aircraft Colibri and Moonbird. Following these calls, the vessel had made its way to the location of the distress signals to offer assistance.
Upon reaching the position, however, Open Arms said the migrant boats appeared to have "disappeared into thin air." In fact they had been picked up by the Libyan coast guard and returned to Libya, Open Arms said in the statement, adding that this was confirmed by data from the UN migration agency, IOM.
"Once again, in addition to carrying out our search and rescue operations and protecting the lives of hundreds of women, men and children, we find ourselves having to denounce the continuous failures to carry out rescues [and] the pushbacks by proxy...," Open Arms said.
'Tomb of European values'
"The Central Mediterranean is now a no man's land, where there is no European coordination.... It is the tomb of the values that have built Europe and its democracies, as well as the thousands of people that governments have not wanted to save," the Open Arms statement added.
The Mediterranean Sea crossing is highly dangerous: In the first three months of 2021, at least 323 migrants who had attempted the journey were reported dead or missing, according to the IOM’s Missing Migrants Project.
Alarm Phone, the emergency hotline, issued an SOS on Friday morning saying that 110 people were in distress in Maltese waters, south of Sicily.