The German ship Sea-Eye 4 has rescued about 330 migrants within the past few days. The latest operation overnight brought 99 people on board: most were reportedly from Syria.
On Sunday, May 16, the Sea-Eye 4 private rescue vessel picked up more than 170 people who were trying to cross the Mediterranean in unseaworthy wooden boats. Among those rescued were children, an eight-month-old baby and a pregnant woman. "We had to treat 12 people in hospital; one child and one adult man needed prolonged stabilization. Fortunately, however, there are no seriously injured people among those rescued," the ship's operations doctor said.
The German ship now has around 330 rescued migrants on board, according to Sea-Eye. On Monday, the crew was nearing "the limit" of their capacity to care for its passengers, the organization reported.
The crew said they had also responded to a distress call from around 50 migrants, but once they had reached the position they found the boat empty. During the operation, the organization reported that a plane operated by the European Union border agency, Frontex, was in the area. Gorden Isler, Sea-Eye spokesperson, said they believed the migrants had been the victims of "yet another illegal refoulement at the instigation of the EU member states and … returned to detention camps in Libya."
The Sea-Eye 4 began its latest mission to rescue migrants in distress in the Mediterranean Sea at the beginning of May. The ship was refitted in the northern German port city of Rostock and is supported by United4Rescue, a coalition of non-profit organizations, which also helps to fund the Sea-Watch 4 rescue ship.
According to UN figures, more than 550 people have died so far this year trying to cross the central Mediterranean to Europe – most left from Libya and Tunisia.
Last week the UN migration agency IOM said that at least 17 people were believed to have died after their boat got into trouble off the Tunisian coast. Two women were rescued.
Also read: Leaving Tunisia: We are always ready to risk our lives
Hundreds returned to Libya
The Libyan coast guard regularly intercepts migrant boats and returns the migrants to Libya where they are detained and subjected to inhumane treatment, human rights groups say.
A spokesperson for the IOM, Safa Msehli, said 680 migrants were intercepted and taken back to Libya on Sunday night. "Support to Libyan Search and Rescue entities should be contingent on no one being arbitrarily detained or subjected to human rights violations," she wrote in a tweet on Monday.