The NGO Sea-Eye ship Alan Kurdi, pictured off the Sardinian coast | Photo: Ettore Loi/ANSA
The NGO Sea-Eye ship Alan Kurdi, pictured off the Sardinian coast | Photo: Ettore Loi/ANSA

The Red Cross has said its teams would join the crew of the Ocean Viking rescue ship from next month; it also launched an emergency appeal for funds. Meanwhile, German charity Sea-Eye has announced it will sell its search and rescue vessel Alan Kurdi to the new Italian organization ResQ.

On Monday (July 19), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said that starting in August, it would send teams to the Central Mediterranean to support the crew of the Ocean Viking with their migrant rescue missions.

"In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis, it is still critical to move to the Mediterranean Sea to save lives and protect human dignity," IFRC President Francesco Rocca said in an online statement published on Monday. People "still dying at sea, on Europe's doorstep" was a "clear failure of the international community," he added.

Consisting of "medical doctors, a midwife and professionals who can provide psychological support," among others, the IFRC team will supply "first aid, medical care, psychological support, food, dry clothes, blankets, toiletries and information" to rescued migrants aboard the Ocean Viking, which is operated by the European charity SOS Mediterranee.

In the online statement and on Twitter, the IFRC also announced an emergency appeal for two million Swiss francs (€1,8 million) to "support the operation."

Private rescue ships often host the migrants aboard for days or even weeks until Italy or Malta grants permission to dock and disembark the passengers. Most recently, the Ocean Viking waited for seven days with 572 migrants on board before it was assigned a port on the Italian island of Sicily.

The migrants, who hailed from Bangladesh, Egypt, Eritrea, Sudan and Libya and included 159 unaccompanied minors, were picked up by the Ocean Viking crew in six separate rescues. Malta had refused to offer them a place of safety.

Sea-Eye sells Alan Kurdi rescue ship

Also on Monday, the German charity Sea-Eye announced it has sold one of its search and rescue (SAR) ships, the Alan Kurdi, to an Italian charity.

Citing a "heavy financial burden," which stems from "enormous sums of money for port and legal fees" incurred by last year's confiscations of the vessel, Sea-Eye said it was forced to sell the Alan Kurdi for €400,000 to ResQ, an Italian sea rescue organization. Sea-Eye chairman Gorden Isler called the sale a "rational decision."

Italian authorities seized the Alan Kurdi twice last year, most recently for seven months at a port on the Italian island of Sardinia before it was released in early May. Sea-Eye has repeatedly criticized the impoundment as politically motivated, arguing that German and Spanish authorities had declared the ship safe.

Sea-Eye says that the Alan Kudri has saved 927 people in 12 rescue missions since December 2018. The ship is named after the drowned Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi, whose lifeless body washed up on a Turkish beach shocked the world in 2015.

"In the future, Sea-Eye will only conduct rescue missions with the SEA-EYE 4," a press release read.

ResQ, founded in December 2019 and headquartered in Milan, is an Italian non-profit that wants to conduct SAR missions in the central Mediterranean Sea. It is not to be confused with Resqship, a Hamburg, Germany based charity "operating monitoring missions in the central Mediterranean" with a sailing boat.

Deaths soar in Central Mediterranean

At the moment, the central Mediterranean route is one of the most dangerous migration paths in the world. According to UN agency IOM, at least 17 out of 1,000 people who have attempted the crossing this year have perished so far. Last year, 12 people out of a thousand died.

The absolute number of deaths is also on the rise: Since the beginning of the year, almost 800 are known to have died -- more than three times as many as during the same period in 2020, according to IOM figures. The IFRC stressed that the actual number of deaths was likely far higher. By far the deadliest year over the past decade was 2016, when more than 4,500 people lost their lives.

Most migrants who perish take off from Libya and Tunisia and try to reach Malta or Italy, whose governments have appealed to other nations in the European Union to take in some of the tens of thousands of rescued migrants in recent years. Many of them hope to reach northern Europe to find jobs or relatives there.

SOS Mediterranee and other European charities have repeatedly accused EU governments of neglecting coordinated SAR missions in a bid to discourage migrants from attempting the crossing from war-torn Libya, where they are often victims of systematic abuse in Libyan camps, including forced labor, beatings, rapes and torture.

Last week, Italian lawmakers approved renewed funding to train Libya's coast guard, just one day after the release of a report outlining the violence that migrants intercepted and returned by the coast guard face in Libyan detention centers.

Libya's EU-funded and trained coast guard has been the bloc's preferred partner to prevent migrants from reaching European soil for years. The members of the loosely organized force have been accused of consisting of former militia and cooperating with human traffickers, among other things.

With epd, KNA, AP, AFP


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