Italy has agreed to take in 86 people found drifting in the Mediterranean on Wednesday. The migrants were rescued by a small private vessel, Nadir, which said it refused to hand them over to Libyan authorities.
Eighty-six people, among them children and three pregnant women, have been taken in by Italian authorities after they were rescued from the Mediterranean by a private German vessel, 'Nadir' on Wednesday, June 16.
The migrants were found within the Maltese search-and-rescue zone, but Malta refused to take responsibility, according to the organization operating the Nadir, Resqship. The Nadir then sailed for the Italian port of Lampedusa, where the migrants were to be handed over to the Italian coast guard, said a spokesperson for the organization Resqship, Gerhard Trabert, on Thursday.
The Nadir had spotted the small wooden boat carrying dozens of people at noon on Wednesday. Immediately after sighting the boat, the Nadir contacted the Malta Maritime Rescue Coordination Center (MRCC). The Nadir is an 18-meter sailing vessel and was able to take only half of the group on board. The rest were given lifejackets and remained in their wooden boat which was towed. At least one person needed medical treatment from the crew after they temporarily lost consciousness. According to Resqship, the migrants had been on the water for 48 hours and had been drifting after their engine failed.
Merchant ship denied Malta's claim
When the Nadir contacted Maltese search and rescue authorities it was told that the MRCC had instructed a Libyan merchant ship sailing nearby, the Lady Nuray, to assist with the migrants. However, Resqship stated in a press release that the Lady Nuray subsequently denied having been contacted by Maltese authorities.
The organization said that the Libyan coast guard then appeared, leading it to suspect that it had been instructed by Malta to force the migrant boat back to Libya. A Resqship spokesperson said the coast guard "threatened the people in distress as well as our crew members and urged them to transfer the people to the Libyan ship so that they can get pushed back to Libya," the Malta-based news portal Newsbook reported. "Since this would be highly illegal on so many levels, our crew obviously didn’t follow the instructions," the spokesperson said.
The Nadir said it continued to try to contact the MRCC in an attempt to persuade it to take responsibility for the migrants, before deciding to head to the Italian island of Lampedusa instead.
Resqship is a privately-funded organization based in Germany. In 2020, along with the humanitarian rescue groups Mare Liberum and Mission Lifeline, it was unable to operate in the Mediterranean because of tougher safety requirements for boats involved in sea rescues. Resqship says that in 2019, its vessel 'Josefa' conducted nine rescue missions in waters between Malta and Libya.
The new ship, Nadir, which replaces Josefa, had set out on its first observation mission to the central Mediterranean on Monday and had only been in the area for 24 hours when it conducted a rescue.
Maltese authorities have been widely condemned for unlawful treatment of migrants in the Mediterranean. In a report published last September, Amnesty International accused the Maltese government of resorting to "dangerous and illegal measures for dealing with the arrivals of refugees and migrants at sea."
"The escalation of tacts included arranging unlawful pushbacks to Libya, diverting boats towards Italy rather than rescuing people in distress and illegally detaining hundreds of people in ill-equipped ferries off Malta’s waters," the Amnesty report continued.
The issue has also led to national investigations into the alleged involvement of the prime minister and other senior officials in illegal practices.
Migrants in Malta are also routinely detained in overcrowded and unsanitary facilities. In March, the Council of Europe’s anti-torture committee called on the government to "put in place an immigration detention system which abides by European values and norms."
In 2020, Malta took in 2,161 irregular migrants, many of whom were escaping persecution in Libya.